Now we’ve looked as some of the most common symptoms that affect singers and some of the ways we can try to alleviate them, what else can be done? and what about all these popular quick fixes?
Can food and drink affect my recovery?
Some seem to think yes! What you eat and drink may affect your recovery, some foods may irritate the throat, some can dehydrate, and some can coat your throat – the latter sometimes isn’t such a bad thing when your poorly and steering off singing for the day as it can help soothe. There is a long list of things singers should potentially avoid which can be found here, this isn’t a lifestyle change – more of something to think about if your voice is feeling tired or aggravated. As with all things, not everyone may notice a difference with the things the eat and drink but I believe if your suffering every little helps!
Quick Fixes & Remedies
You really do want to avoid any quick fixes herbal or medicinal unless you really need it and if you do you shouldn’t be singing – this isn’t just about recovering in time for a gig now this can wipe you out for months if you can’t sort it now it will save you from losing more income or practice time in the future.
So along with steaming lets look at some of the ways we can deal with your cold – its easy to head for a quick fix or cold and flu tablets/cough sweets, but which ones will actually help and which ones will make you worse?
I found a really interesting article by Dr Harris an ENT Surgeon from the Voice Council site on singing through colds a while back, he spoke of how different medicines can hinder a singers recovery, he talked about antihistamines and decongestants and how they affect the mucosal membrane on the vocal folds – essentially the way these medicines work is to dry up the mucous which in turn aggravates the voice and causes irritation. What you need to remember is that your body creates mucous for a reason, it’s there to protect the folds – thats why we find the need to clear the throat repetitively after we’ve over worked the voice.
One of the only medicines Dr Harris recommended for colds is First Defense Nasal Spray, its designed to coat the mucosal membrane to trap the virus particles, and contains active ingredients to help kill off the germs – apparently the ingredients in the spray are completely safe for singers. Ive tried it a few times before as I’ve felt the sniffles coming on but not sure how it would work on a full blown cold as it is said its best to be taken at the first signs. I feel it did work for me – but then again I’m always acting as early as I can when I feel something coming on – especially as a cold for me means a week without being able to teach!! Let me know if you do try it and feel any benefits!
Sore Throat Sweets / Pastilles
When you are ill and have a cough or sore throat you are likely to head for the sore throat pastilles – as we all know we should be watching how much we sing right now but if we are forced to sing we need to make sure we don’t cover up any pain we are feeling with any medicines, this is why it is important that you check the ingredients of the cough sweet. You really want to avoid anything that includes anaesthetic (which numbs), cough suppressants, decongestants or caffeine which all have a drying action. It is best to stick to a general cough/sore throat sweet that contains an Antiseptic which helps to destroy the bacteria in your throat and mouth. If things are really bad and I know I can take time out from singing for a day or two I will personally use ‘Tyrozets’ they do have a numbing action which is why I make an effort to be careful with my voice use when taking them, they do however have great antiseptic properties and are my go to throat sweet. Remember you should not take any numbing medicines at any point if you intend to carry on singing, you will not be able to feel any potential damage you may be doing and will more than likely hinder your recovery.
I have to admit I do take vitamin C when I’m ill – again there is no real cure for the common cold but a lot of singers swear by Vitamin C to help prevent a cold from worsening, some people also recommend Echinacea and Zinc to help keep the immune system strong.
Honey is known for its great vitamin content but also for coating the throat and mouth which helps sooth the voice and help it to recover quickly, I hear a lot of people talk about Honey and Lemon, this is a much debated remedy. Some singers swear by it but others swear off it! After all lemon is an acid which can strip the back of the throat and cause more irritation, I always recommend sticking to hot water and a teaspoon or two of honey. The warm drink will be soothing in itself and some believe the honey will coat your throat nicely. I have to admit I’m not entirely sold on the benefits of honey and hot water.
Salt Water Gargle,
Another recommended solution is the salt water gargle, especially if you think you may have an infection in your throat or suffer from tonsillitis. The water we drink or gargle with will not touch your vocal folds but it is great for helping to stop the build up of germs in the throat. Again this isnt one of my practices but I do have quite a few students who swear by salt water gargles!
If I’m honest I would prefer my students to stay away from most home made remedies and over the counter medicines as there are usually a lot of side affects to these tablets and potions. Steam, water and rest really does go such a long way to help the singer get back on form.
So To break it down
- Steam often
- Drink plenty of Water (avoid caffeine)
- Keep humming / make sure your warmed up before singing
- Do the bottle and straw exercises / SOS
- Watch your vocal load / Have a plan b set list
- Take Regular Vocal Naps
- Keep Warm
- Eat well – know which foods and drinks may affect your personal recovery
- Avoid cough suppressants / decongestant tablets or solutions
- Up your vitamin C
On the plus side the thing to bear in mind is the fact adrenaline is your best friend if you’re ill and need to perform, most of your symptoms usually subside when you get on stage but you need to give it the help you can with the methods above, it’s just no good if you’ve needed to practice or had hoped to sound the best you could!
Ideally we want to work to try and prevent colds from wiping us out in the first place, eating well, getting plenty of rest, as well as looking after your voice, stay warm in the winter, all the above are key to prevent you from getting too run down in the first place. As singers we dread catching colds but it is unfortunately sometimes inescapable, and some times we just have to tell ourselves – Im I’ll but I can do this anyway. Thats not an excuse to not take what ever is affecting you seriously – If you think you may have a throat infection or chest infection make a doctors appointment – you may need prescribed medication to help you get over it.
If none of the above works you need to rest your voice, you need to just give it time and let it heal – if you are really that ill then you need to just step back and let your body do the work, Unfortunately it may just be the case of the fact we’re stuck with this cold for right now, and to a certain extent we may need to just ride it out, hopefully some of the above can help alleviate the discomfort and help your voices recover quicker.
If vocal health is something your worried about have a read through The Vocal Health Pages to see what is realistic for you to be able to do with your voice and lifestyle unfortunately when it comes to colds it is the case of ride it out and try to limit as many other issues as possible, but the better idea you have of how to work with your vocal health the more likely you are to be able to prevent any colds or potential injuries from affecting your career / study / income.