Miley Cyrus, 26, is on the road to recovery after she recently had to unexpectedly have vocal cord surgery and everything should be fine as long as she remains silent for a certain amount of time. The singer underwent the procedure after a condition affecting her vocal cords was found when she went to a doctor for tonsillitis at the end of Oct. and now we’re learning exactly what can cause such a thing and how it’s treated. Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist (ENT) and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA talked EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife about the type of surgery Miley had and the details surrounding it.
As she currently goes through her recovery process, Mehdizadeh explained that doctors usually prescribe anywhere from five days to a period of four weeks of vocal rest after the procedure so it’s crucial Miley doesn’t talk as her vocal cords heal because it could do a lot of damage if she does. “Imagine the vocal cords like two guitar strings, a left vocal chord and a right vocal cord and then there is a lining of the vocal cord that vibrates whenever we talk or when we sing,” Mehdizadeh said. “Whenever we do surgery on the vocal chords we’re typically invading that lining and what we need to have people do is rest the voice so that lining heals up without any inflammation because if someone did talk more or sing during the recovery they’re actually causing a lot of mechanical stresses and that could lead to inflammation in a healing vocal cord and whenever you get inflammation anywhere in the body that’s trying to heal it can scar.”
Apart from not talking, Miley shouldn’t have too much of a hard time with the recovery process since it doesn’t affect more than the vocal cords in the body. “We do give these people a lot of tools like digital pads to write things down instead of actually using their voice,” Mehdizadeh said about the post-op process. “A lot of people think that whispering is okay, but actually whispering is even more straining on the vocal chords than regular room volume talking. From other standpoints like pain and breathing and drinking and eating it’s actually quite comfortable.”
Although Miley hasn’t confirmed what exactly caused her surgery, Mehdizadeh admitted it most likely was lesions on her vocal cords. “Conditions that may result in vocal surgery are typically lesions on the vocal cords. Sometimes these lesions are inflammatory, meaning they’re kind of reactive from a specific way that someone is using their voice box, whether they’re straining or talking a lot or shouting or yelling,” he explained. “Using the technique in singing that’s not necessarily the most efficient way to use the voice box, that puts an undue amount of strain and trauma on the vocal cords. So typical lesions like that would include something like nodules. Which are typically kind of callus like, thickening or inflammation of the vocal cords. Other types of lesions would include a cyst, which is a small fluid collection under the vocal cord. A polyp is essentially like a blood blister or a bleed under the vocal cord as well that really requires someone to either maintain absolute voice rest or really be conservative with their voice use initially. Or, if that doesn’t work, resort to surgery.”
“Other types of things are typically growths,” he continued. “So growths can be anywhere from benign growths, like a papilloma, which is essentially a wart. You know, people will get warts in other areas of the body. It’s typically caused by the HPV virus. Those are benign growths on the vocal cords, so ranging anywhere from that all the way to cancer.”
Since Miley is a singer, a nodule or a cyst is probably the culprit. “I don’t want to say that Miley has poor technique. It’s just technique. It’s kind of over straining the vocal chords,” Mehdizadeh said. “I see them a lot more commonly in aspiring singers who just don’t have the training. They’ve never actually undergone formal singing, like a singing coach or even like a voice therapist, something like that. Or a voice coach to really teach them the right way to sing.”
Mehdizadeh went on to explain that seasoned singers like Miley as well as Justin Timberlake and Adele, who have also had the same surgery, can still strain their voice enough to rupture delicate blood vessels in the vocal cords. “Every once in a while they will put a lot of strain, they will really belt out, and then what can happen is there are very small, delicate blood vessels that run within the vocal cord and they can rupture. I believe that is what happened to Justin and those, that level of injury can range anywhere from a tiny, tiny little polyp, which tends to kind of go away on its own, to a pretty significant bleed or bruise under the vocal cord that needs to really completely resolve before they start singing again.”
As long as Miley follows doctors’ orders and stays as quiet as possible for the time they advise, she will most likely not have any issues, however, the surgery in of itself has a risk of scarring and even changing the voice. Mehdizadeh advised, though, that if anything did go wrong in the surgery, it should be noticed quickly after it’s done. “What we’ll usually do is a special examination, look at the vocal cords in the office about a week after the surgery,” he said. “And we can actually look for scarring. We actually, look for scarring, we can see if there is inflammation and how it’s all healing and that will usually tell us how everything is going.”