April 22, 2008 — -- A vocal chord injury could permanently strip "American Idol" season six winner Jordin Sparks of her singing voice if she does not abide by doctor's orders and rest, several throat specialists told ABCNEWS.com.
Scarring from a vocal chord injury could make a difference for a professional singer, said Dr. Peter Catalano, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. "It may change your ability to sing certain types of songs or potentially, if it's really bad, affect your ability to sing altogether."
Sparks was diagnosed with an acute vocal chord hemorrhage, an injury similar to a blood blister that results from the overuse of vocal chords. The condition is most often seen in people who use their voice professionally, such as attorneys, teachers or, as in the "American Idol" case, singers.
Numerous crooners, including Elton John, Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith) and Jessica Simpson, have reportedly had their careers temporarily sidelined by vocal injuries.
Sparks has already canceled several appearances, including scheduled cameos on Grammy Award-winning artist Alicia Key's tour. Her publicist told ABCNEWS.com that Sparks, 18, will remain offstage until May.
"Jordin Sparks is on vocal rest and is expected to make a full and complete recovery. She looks forward to joining Alicia Keys on tour in May," read a statement released by 19/Jive Records. "Sparks has been going nonstop over the past two years, and now she is going through the normal course of learning how to manage and care for her voice.
"Jordin appreciates the outpouring of concern and well-wishes of her fans as she recuperates at home," read the statement.
And it's Sparks' "nonstop" lifestyle that is likely contributing to her failing vocal chords and could leave the singer with a different sounding voice altogether, experts said.
"Depending on where on the vocal chord [the blister] is and how big it is really determines how it affects one's voice and whether or not it would be dangerous to someone's career," said Catalano. "Certain parts of the vocal chords are much more important to the quality of one's voice than others."
Catalano, who has not treated Sparks, said that no matter where on the vocal chord the injury occurs, vocal rest is very important to prevent against scarring.
"Once it happens you don't want to go from a tiny blister into something that's really big," said Catalano, who agreed that Sparks' decision to stop singing for a few weeks was probably for the best. "If the trauma [of singing] continues, the blister could spread, so you have to stop the vocal use as soon as you see it."
When the vocal hemorrhage or blister forms, vocal chords vibrate against one another too frequently or too quickly, causing blood to get trapped in between the skin and the tissue of the chord. While this blood never escapes the blister -- and will not result in a patient coughing up blood -- the human body naturally tends to the wound by scarring.
It is that scar, if severe enough, that can make the future vibration of the chords produce a different sound.
"If the vocal chords heal with a scar it will affect the way the chords vibrate and will change the vocal quality," said Catalano. "If you're a professional singer, scarring could obviously make a difference."
This sort of injury is fairly common in pop rock singing, said Dr. Norman Hogikyan, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan. While the injury is not particularly painful, he said, a singer will notice an almost immediate scratchiness in his or her voice.
"You usually know it's happening vocally because its an abrupt onset of significant hoarseness," said Hogikyan, who said in extreme cases, surgery can be performed to remove the blister to prevent scarring, but rest is usually enough. "It's usually profound enough that it affects one's speaking and singing voice, and as it heals your voice gradually improves."
"This type of problem occurs more often in a pop rock style of singing than in classical singing, because the nature of the voice production puts more wear and tear on the vocal chords," said Hogikyan.