As singers we need to take extra care of our voices during these Winter months, as losing them can impact not only on our hobbies, but also, for many of us, our livelihood.
So here’s an expansion on 10 tips I posted recently on my Facebook page to ensure you come out the other side of any sickness with the healthiest voice possible.
- Go to the doctor.
But take a book – you know how those waiting rooms can be.
- Minimum 24 hours COMPLETE vocal rest – more if possible.
There’s nothing better for a tired/sick voice than at least a day of complete vocal rest – no talking, so singing, not even humming along to the radio. Invest in a mini whiteboard if you want, although these days it’s just easier to use the notes app on your phone.
I recently shared a link to some handy vocal rest gear to help you out if you’re in need – check them out on Zazzle.com.
- Go to the doctor.
Have you booked yet? Go on.
- 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.
- Go to the doctor.
Don’t like talking to strangers over the phone? I get it. Try downloading the handy Get Better app – it allows you to find and book local appointments without the discomfort of having to engage with an actual human being.
- 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 OK as you still have sensation, but NOT lozenges.
Similarly, be wary of decongestants. Yes they dry the mucus in your sinuses so you can breath, 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.
- GO TO THE DOCTOR.
Don’t have a car? NO EXCUSES.
- Steam, steam, steam.
- Boil the kettle
- Pour the water into a bowl
- Leave to cool for 3-4 minutes
- Stick your head under a towel and breathe the steam for 10-15 minutes
- Repeat twice a day.
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.
- 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.
- 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, book in with a vocal health specialist.
Happy, healthy singing 🙂
Picture credit to James Terry Photography