As singers we need to take extra care of our voices during these Winter months, as losing them can impact not only our hobbies, but also, for many of us, our livelihood.
So here’s an updated version of tips I've posted previously on my Facebook page to ensure you come out the other side of any sickness with the healthiest voice possible.
Bonus tip: cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze because ew
1. Go to the doctor
But take a book – you know how those waiting rooms can be.
2. Grab a straw
Semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises have been shown to facilitate "quicker and better healing in the cells and tissues [of] the larynx and vocal folds" (ref.). If that's a completely new term for you check out this video:
However, in the case of vocal haemorrhage you'll be looking at "total voice rest for 2 weeks" (ref.). If you're not sure and would like to confirm exactly what you're dealing with (recommended), refer to tips 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9.
If you do find yourself on vocal rest, invest in a mini whiteboard or some similar writing aid, although these days it’s just easier to just use the notes app on your phone. Alternative you can check out Zazzle.com for some helpful apparel.
For further comparison between resonant voice use and vocal rest click here.
3. Go to the doctor
Have you booked yet? Go on.
4. Water, water, water
At least 2 litres a day.
Anything you drink doesn’t directly hydrate your vocal folds. Think about it – if you inhaled the fluids you drink you’d drown. That goes for water, tea, coffee, alcohol – none of them have a direct effect on your vocal folds.
Imbibed fluids have to be absorbed by the body before they can hydrate anything, and this can take anywhere from 2-24 hours.
I tell my students to hydrate today for tomorrow. That way you’re sure your body has absorbed all of the fluids you’ve given it, plus it prompts you to be hydrating every day.
5. Go to the doctor
Don’t like talking to strangers over the phone? I get it. Try downloading the handy Health Engine app – it allows you to find and book local appointments without the discomfort of having to engage with an actual human being.
6. Lozenges are a BIG NO NO!
Local anaesthetics numb the throat.
If your throat is numb, you have to push harder to feel anything. Analgesics (Panadol, etc) are better as you still have sensation although they also thin the blood, increasing your chances of haemorrhage. Refer to tips 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 if you're not sure but definitely NOT lozenges.
Similarly, be wary of decongestants. Yes they dry the mucus in your sinuses so you can breathe, but they also dry the lubricating mucus in your throat that your vocal folds need to function properly. They’re OK for overnight use if you need to sleep but be careful during the day. I personally prefer to just ‘glug’ through things if I get sick, rather than drying everything out – including the stuff I need.
To quote Tim Minchin, my “placebo of choice” when sick is good ol’ olive leaf extract and a vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea combination.
If things get chesty, refers to tips 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, who will most likely prescribe you with some sort of suppressant (to stop the cough) and a mucolytic to thin the mucus, making it easier to bring up (apologies for the mental image). Mucolytics thin the mucus without drying it up, meaning the ‘good’ mucus in your throat is still present. But ultimately I’m no MD – check with your pharmacist (at least) before starting any treatments.
7. GO TO THE DOCTOR
Don’t have a car? NO EXCUSES
8. Steam, steam, steam
Remember: steam is the ONLY WAY to DIRECTLY hydrate your vocal folds as it is inhaled. Smoke takes the same path, which is why it’s so bad for singer’s instruments. If you’re a singer and you’re still smoking, quit.
9. GO TO THE BLEEDIN’ DOCTOR ALREADY
If you’re still reading this and haven’t booked yet, I can’t help you. Maybe try WebMD? Although if you head down that path you’ll probably end up with a cancer diagnosis. At least that’s what it always tells me.
But seriously, if you do go you've got a better chance of finding out exactly what you're dealing with rather than trying everything/hoping/guessing and can therefore treat it directly/appropriately (and therefore hopefully more quickly).
10. Rest as much as you can and then start using your voice slowly and gently once it’s feeling better
Sometimes the recovery process can take as long as 4-6 weeks, especially if things progress as far as laryngitis/you end up losing your voice completely. Take care and don’t push things too quickly, even if your voice feels like it can – if you’re unsure, consult your vocal health specialist.
Happy, healthy singing :)