Written by Songbird founder and owner Whitney Nichole.
Being sick sucks. Especially when you’re a singer.
I’m sitting here writing this from bed, sore throat, runny nose, cough, headache, congestion… the whole bag. So today’s blog is a very timely topic for me!
What should singers do when we get sick with a cold or flu? Stop use our voice altogether? Cancel gigs, lessons? If we sing or talk, are we going to hurt our voice? How do we protect our voices and speed up the recovery process?
As you might expect, there’s a range of answers to these questions, and being sick can cause a whole host of questions and fears for your voice, especially when you LOVE to sing, or use your voice professionally. Here are my three guiding principles for singing when sick:
Not all “sickness” is created equal.
A cold is different than the flu, which is different than allergies which is different than asthma – and that’s just the beginning. Each variety of infection or illness can affect your voice differently. It’s important to check in with your body when you get sick to see how your current sickness is affecting your vocal folds, lungs, vocal tract and upper body.
If your throat is sore or you have a lot of pain or dryness – that likely means your vocal folds are also inflamed. Take extra care and limit your voice use here. On the other hand, if you have a stomach flu, your body will feel awful, dehydrated and depleted, but your vocal folds will be less directly impacted, so you may not need to go on complete voice rest.
Another thing to remember is that your vocal folds themselves do not have pain receptors so you won’t actually feel any pain there. You have to let the sensations in your neck and throat guide you. Consider also how your breathing is affected by lots of coughing or asthma. You may not have swelling, but you will need to adjust for less efficient lung power. Sinus congestion and post nasal drip can also affect the vocal tract – as that drainage can inflame the vocal folds, so in cases like that, you want to be mindful of your voice usage!
You’ve got to take care of yourself. This means giving your body rest, fluids and healthy whole foods. Once you do that you should take a look at your schedule – do you need a day off work? Are you still contagious? Are you back on the ups? Do you need to be around people? How important is that open mic or gig coming up? And when it comes to sicknesses that affect your voice as described above, how can you give your vocal folds and upper respiratory system the rest it truly needs?
That may mean skipping a voice lesson, rescheduling a gig, moving that meeting, or taking a rain-check on going out with your friends. So consider how much your sickness is affecting your vocal folds and how necessary your voice use is when you’re under the weather.
Promote vocal healing.
Sometimes vocal rest is an easy choice. However, if you do need to talk or sing, there are things you can do to keep it gentle and even help encourage healing! To help expedite your downtime, there are a few things you can do:
- Use a Humidifier: Adding moisture to the air helps to ease respiratory symptoms and dryness. But keep them clean! Dirty humidifies do more harm than good.
- SOVT’s: You know that straw we’ve been preaching about? Yeah, that’s our #1 SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercise. Stay tuned because we’ll dive deep into the how and why in our next blog! But all you need to know now is that it reduces muscular strain, balances out the vocal tract and promotes healing. CLUTCH when you are sick!
- Sinus Rinse or Neti Pot: For those colds that get you all stuffy and phlegmy. Clear it up!
- HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE: You already had a glass of water? I don’t care. When you are sick drink ALL the water. I’m talking a full 8 ounces an hour. Throughout the night and first thing in the morning. Erryday all day. H20 is the magical elixir!