As a singer or actor, keeping your voice healthy during cold and flu season can be a challenge. Voice students must have a good offensive and defensive plan to keep their voices and bodies in top performance shape. This will reduce both the severity and frequency of illness. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and avoid vocal cord injury!
YOUR OFFENSE: Prevention Is of the Utmost Importance
Hydration: Hydration makes the mucus that covers the vocal cords thin and slippery. This allows them to move against each other easily and vibrate smoothly. Mucus is like motor oil for a car engine.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day.
- Use a room humidifier or Hot Water Vaporizer during dry months of the year. Caution to those with mold and mildew allergies. Room humidity should be 30-50%
Sleep: Plan your day so that you are able to get the rest your body needs to function, fight off infection and repair tired muscles.
Vocal Fitness and Vocal Strain:
- Exercise your vocal cords daily. The better shape your voice is in, the more resilient, and the less likely you are to injure your cords.
- Forcing your chest voice too high in your register can strain the voice. Learn how to sing in a mixed voice of head and chest to avoid damage. If you are not sure how to do this, find a good vocal teacher that can work with you to achieve this.
Throat clearing: puts immense stress on the vocal cords. Instead, try to swallow when you feel the urge to clear your throat.
Dry environments and drinks:
- Being on an airplane or in a building with forced hot air can dry out vocal folds. If you are unable to avoid these environments, increase water intake and use external hydration such as steam inhalation or room humidification as soon as you can.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine which make vocal folds dryer. If you choose to have either of these, remember to increase your water intake.
- Cold water makes the vocal cords tight and less agile. Room temperature water is best when singing.
Overuse, Yelling, and Whispering:
- If your voice is tired, cracking, sore, or hoarse it is best to not sing.
- Yelling as in cheerleading or stage belting can be dangerous for your voice if not using proper technique. Find a good vocal coach to work with you on using your voice in a way that is not harmful.
- Talking over a noisy room puts strain on the vocal cords.
- Whispering does more harm than good when you are sick or your voice is fatigued.
YOUR DEFENSIVE GAME: If you do get sick, What is your best defense as a singer?
Steam Inhalation: Steam inhalation helps the voice box stay moist and soothes irritated vocal folds. Safe steam inhalation includes shower steam, a personal steamer (found at the drug store), hot water steam from the sink, and a hot washcloth. For best results, breath steam through the nose for 3-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day when cold symptoms are present or if you are in a dry environment.
Room Humidification or Hot Water Vaporizer:
- Run a room humidifier overnight. For best results, keep the humidity between 30-50%. This method is not advised for those with mold and mildew allergies.
- Use a hot water vaporizer – not a cold one, as it releases chemicals and germs into the air.
Beware of Cold Medication and Cough Drops!
- Cold medicines and cough drops can be dehydrating.
- Avoid decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants. Instead use mucolytic medication (helps keep mucus thin and slippery): Humibid, Mucinex, and Robitussin.
- Cough Drops and Throat Lozenges are drying to the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. Choose products that do not contain menthol or eucalyptus. Instead use lozenges that contain glycerin, pectin, or slippery elm such as Grether’s Pastilles, Thayers Slippery Elm Lozenges , or Halls Breezers.
Should you sing when you are sick? I tell my students that if your throat is sore and irritated, if it hurts or is uncomfortable to sing, then they should rest their voice. It is especially important with growing and developing vocal cords to be safe and protect the instrument as they are more susceptible to injury. There are many ways to practice without singing such as listening to the music that you are studying. If you absolutely have to sing, make sure that you are using proper technique and hydration.