In 1989, Kathy Adkins was a college undergraduate and an aspiring singer, pursuing a degree in music education from Morehead State University.
But then she was diagnosed with nodules on her vocal cords—and her teachers and peers were less than understanding.
“I had a voice teacher who was very negative,” she says. “Back then, they kind of thought that if you had nodules that was the end of your career.”
Soon after, Adkins left the program, finding work as a hairdresser.
“I actually got out of music for a very long time,” she says. “It wasn’t until I decided that that’s where my real love was … that I decided I was going to go back and finish my voice degree no matter what.”
Adkins also went on to earn her master’s degree in speech language pathology, as well as certification in vocology from Denver’s National Center for Voice and Speech.
Now she’s the resident singing specialist at the UC Physicians’ Voice and Swallowing Center.
She spends her time working with professional voice users, providing voice evaluations and therapy for those who sing or speak for a living.
Looking back, she blames ignorance for the treatment from her college teachers and classmates—she says “nodules” is often used as a blanket term for any kind of protrusion from the vocal folds.
In her year at UC Physicians, she hasn’t even seen a true case of them.
“I incurred a lot of psychological damage over having had nodules,” says Adkins. “I just wanted to help people hopefully head off some of that damage that can come from having a voice disorder.”
At the Voice and Swallowing Center, Adkins treats patients with disorders like vocal fold paralysis, often from nerve damage, and spasmodic dysphonia, a condition characterized by sudden spasms of the vocal folds. She says the disorders can result from injury to the vocal folds or from ailments as common as arthritis, viruses or acid reflux.
Using combinations of vocal therapy and vocal rest, she helps patients soothe their symptoms and develop new vocal habits.
“I work on strengthening and getting that nerve to work as efficiently as possible,” she says.
Though people often take their voice for granted, Adkins says it’s a muscle that needs training like everything else—sometimes more than other muscles.
She says the brain “doesn’t have a checklist” for the proper way to produce voice.
“So if your brain thinks you have to stand on your head and rub your stomach to produce voice, that’s what it would do,” she says. “You fall into bad habits because your brain will do whatever it takes to produce voice.”
Those shortcuts used when tired or sick can easily become habits, which can lead to disorders.
Adkins recommends that anyone experiencing more than two weeks of hoarseness or repeated vocal problems schedule an appointment with a vocologist. She says she works with an experienced team of speech language pathologists and otolaryngologists to treat patient needs.
She also recommends that vocal professionals have regular checkups, as vocal therapy can maintain and even expand their range.
“You’re basically learning how to get more bang for your buck,” she says. “You’re strengthening everything and learning how to use your vocal muscles more efficiently.”
To schedule an appointment with Adkins or an ENT specialist at UC Physicians, call (513) 475-8400 or visit www.ucphysicians.com.
Tips for Vocal Health When not seeing patients, Kathy Adkins travels to schools and churches to talk about proper vocal hygiene. Here are some of her tips: -Drink six to eight glasses of water per day. -Don’t strain to talk over background noise – and try to avoid repeated throat clearing. -For people who use their voice a lot (from singers to receptionists), try “vocal naps.” Each hour or so, rest your voice and don’t talk for one to two minutes.