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Upper Range "Compressed", Seeking Causes

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dcooley
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Hi. New to the forum. I did a quick search for similar symptoms but wasn't able to find anything that seemed to match up.

I am a professional vocalist, singing pop/rock material in a band as well as being classically trained and doing choral work from time to time. I also direct a small men's glee club. I am not trained in pedagogy. I have a 2.5 octave range from an octave and a half below middle C to an octave above middle C. I'm nearly 50, and while I do sing in a band, I also do all the things you are supposed to do to keep your voice in good shape. I do not smoke and generally hydrate like mad during periods when I'm actively singing. In general, I sing in front of people every month or two, so I'm not overworking my voice in terms of time.

Two days ago, I started having symptoms of a problem I had back in 2003. I can best characterize the problem as being that my voice is fairly normal as I move up in range, but when I approach my break (E above middle C) I start to have trouble hitting the pitch. By the time I get to the break, I am completely unable to hit the pitch, and attempts to sing higher just stay at the same pitch. It's like my brain thinks "A" and my voice sings something below E. It's very frustrating, sort of like playing a piano that is so out of tune that the notes don't progress in a sequential manner.

In 2003, I was preparing for a choir tour to Cuba (legally) as a featured vocalist, and I spent two hectic weeks running to vocal coaches, ENTs, otolarygologists, getting an MRI, taking steroids, film of my mechanism, the whole thing. Eventual verdict - no idea, hope it gets better. It did, but it took three months to get 80% of my range back, and another three to get to 90%. While I don't have any "critical" gigs coming up, my band does have a very lucrative gig in mid-July with some potential to turn into more gigs, but we can't do it if I can't sing. Getting another singer would be difficult at best.

Some other factors:

1) In 2003, I had a strong suspicion that a badly maintained theatrical wig I wore a couple of days before I started seeing symptoms caused an allergic reaction, perhaps from mold. This time, no wig but we are having quite a bit of allergens in the area after a very rainy spring. The same day this year that I started noticing symptoms, I had an unusual sneezing attack (I take Claritin and Flonase for allergy symptom relief, both very effective in general), and I also am driving a new 2012 car, but otherwise no changes in my life. I did have a bit of acid reflux a few days ago as well, but it was short lived (a few minutes) but moderately severe.

2) In 2003 as well as now, one of the symptoms is that the right side of my face feels like it's congested (it is not). It seems to me they scoped my sinuses before and didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but I have a very strong suspicion that this is part of the problem - I think that my mask is not reacting as it normally does on the right side, and that is affecting the entire mechanism. When they scoped my vocal folds in 2003, there was no damage to them, and they simply were acting as if I was trying to sing a very high pitch out of my range. I was checked for Bell's Palsy back in 2003, but did not have it.

3) Below middle C, my voice is more or less normal, although I do have to concentrate quite a bit more than usual to be pitch accurate. If anything, my speaking voice is a little lower than normal, as if I had a cold, and I speak less loudly than normal. I have no falsetto at all, anything above E is essentially a single pitched honk.

4) Given that this problem seems to affect only the right side of my mask, I would think there might be a neurological cause, but the MRI I took in 2003 came back negative. They may have been looking in the wrong place, I guess.

Having a little more time to deal with the issue than in 2003, I'm getting advice from a different vocal coach and going to see an ENT, but I have to say that I have very little faith in Western medicine to give me even a cause that I can avoid in the future. In 2003, I more or less had a nervous breakdown because I had no idea if the problem would ever go away (it did, slowly). I'm less concerned now, but I am strongly considering alternative therapies (although I am an empiricist and most alt therapies tend to pooh pooh the scientific method) such as acupuncture. Obviously, if something works, great, but the engineer in me wants a *reason* why this is happening.

I should also note that I am suffering from hypertension, which was not true in 2003 although has been the case for a couple of years now, and I am also in the early stages of having a nerve bundle coming out of my spinal column on the *left* side getting some compression and causing mild pain and numbness in my left arm. I don't believe that's the cause, but more info is good info.

Finally, I should note that I was on a couple of courses of Predisone, the second lasting a month, to treat a particularly bad outbreak of gout. I have recently changed my gout medication to Allopurinol as well. I stopped the Prednisone about three weeks ago, and I suppose there could be some swelling in reaction to stopping the Prednisone. However, in 2003 I was *on* Prednisone as a first treatment and it did not help at all.

I am making a lot of assumptions that what was true in 2003 is true today, mostly because it feels *exactly* the same as it did then.

If anyone has had experience with a similar problem, I would love to have some potential avenues to pursue.

I apologize for the long post, but I try to be complete. Thanks in advance for any tips, although I suspect that most home remedies are things I've tried before (such as NETI pot irrigation, which is great but also didn't help in 2003). I'm especially interested in hearing from someone who has actually had the problem or treated the problem in the past.

Doug

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Quick follow up - some cursory reading and reference to a soprano and vocal coach I know suggests the problem may be damage to the recurrent laryngal nerve, which controls a good chunk of the larynx. Recovery period, much of the symptoms, and just common sense all point to this, or to one of a few similar nerves. Probably a virus that destroyed the nerve and a six month to a year period for it to regenerate (although some chance that it won't). For now, I can live with this, although if I really feel I can't there may be a relatively safe surgery to reposition my larynx to allow me to sing involving a collagen injection.

Still, I'd be interested in hearing from others who've run into a similar situation.

Doug

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