Signs of Abuse or Damage
Your warning signals may take different forms. In some cases you will feel pain. As previously stated, pain should never be ignored. It's a sign that something is wrong, not something to work through. Your vocal training is not a “no pain, no gain” situation. If you proceed in doing the action that is causing the pain, you can create serious or irreversible damage.
There are also some warning signs that aren't painful. You may just regard them as an annoyance, or maybe even so longstanding and familiar that you're not even aware of the message they're sending.
Warning Signs with Pain
A sore throat means that the tissues are swollen and inflamed. This usually is a result of illness, such as a cold or flu, but can be caused by misuse. It will always be your indication to stop singing and restrict talking as much as possible.
If a sore throat lasts more than a few days, or if you feel any intense pain in the mouth, throat, or chest, you should see a doctor. The more quickly you take care of an illness, the less chance it will cause any permanent vocal damage. Never sing with a sore throat!
Warning Signs with No Pain
There are also many serious conditions that do not trigger pain. You should pay careful attention to any frequency of these indications, since the results may be severe.
Excessive throat clearing can be a nervous habit or a sign that something is irritating the throat. It could be the result of some form of allergy, acid reflux, a reaction to an inhaled substance, overproduction of mucous and phlegm, incorrect use of the voice, or emotional anxiety. If the problem is constant, you might want to look through some of the previous sections of this chapter and begin tracking the source.
Hoarseness means the edges of the vocal folds are unable to vibrate properly. It could be mild, only lasting a few hours or a day, in which case you may have been singing either incorrectly or for too long. A short rest should take care of it. If it continues, however, it can be a serious indication of illness or any of the symptoms listed above with throat clearing. You must pay very careful attention to technique and be sure you're not singing incorrectly. With constant abuse the vocal folds can form lesions known as nodes or nodules. This condition is similar to any callous formed by friction or irritation. Although surgery was once a popular treatment for this condition, most doctors now will recommend vocal rest. Vocal rest means total silence—restriction from any talking or singing, sometimes for several months.
Laryngitis is severe inflammation of the tissues in the larynx. It may be caused by illness and infection or, once again, by any of the causes mentioned previously. Many people will experience laryngitis after yelling, screaming, or singing with excessive tension for long periods of time. Vocal rest is necessary to recover from laryngitis. You should definitely not try to talk or whisper while afflicted.