Vocal Health: How to Look After Your Voice When You're Sick


We're now just a few days away from June now, which means we're about to enter the dreaded cold and flu season.


Now, I know that this year's season is probably going to look very different than normal - all of us are keeping our distance from others, practicing excellent hygiene and keeping everything super clean, which means there could well be a lot less spread of the common cold this season (let's keep our fingers crossed!)


But, at the end of the day, there is one question that keeps popping up in my lessons in June and July - if I get sick, how do I take care of my voice?


Well, I've got you covered - there's a few things that you can do to soothe your throat while you're sick, and a few others that you should consider avoiding. At the end of the day, whether you end up feeling a bit under the weather this winter or not, this is still great information to have on hand - you never know when you might need it!


Just a quick disclaimer before we start: I am not a doctor or medical professional. If you have concerns about your voice or vocal health, visit your GP or throat specialist. Now that that's covered, let's talk about singing!


Should You Rest Your Voice When You're Sick?


Well, it actually depends!


If you have no symptoms in your throat or voice, you'll probably be fine to continue singing! Just be aware that if you start to feel any kind of pain or discomfort while you sing, you'll want to stop singing and rest your voice.


If you've got a sore throat, are losing your voice or have any other symptoms in the throat and voice, you'll probably be better off if you avoid singing while you have those symptoms. Give your voice some time off and you'll be better in no time.


These Can Help You!


There's actually a few different foods or ingredients that can help you get your voice back to full health faster! Here's a list of all the things that might help you recover.


Water

Water is the best! It's really great for your throat and voice - even if you're not sick. Water keeps your vocal folds lubricated, which means they'll have a much easier time singing. If your throat feels dry, then this is the first thing you should be drinking. (It's also just really good for you in general, so drink up!)


Tea (Decaf)

A warm cup of tea is a fantastic way to soothe the throat, plus it's just very calming. But be careful when selecting your tea! Caffeinated teas can have a drying effect on the throat, which is the exact opposite of what we want to achieve here. Choose herbal teas with no caffeine for the best result.


Honey

Honey is another one of those things that will soothe the throat, and I find it particularly useful if my throat is feeling dry. Personally, I love to add a bit of honey to my tea.


Lemon & Honey Tea

This is a fantastic drink for when you're fighting off a cold. The lemon will help clear mucus, while honey soothes the throat. All you need to do is add some lemon juice and honey to warm water and give it a good stir. If you're not a lemon fan, add more honey to sweeten things up. I also enjoy throwing a few spices into my version - I quite enjoy a bit of cinnamon and ginger with mine.


Consider Avoiding These


While there's some various foods (or, more accurately, drinks) that can help your voice recover, there's also a number of things that you might want to avoid if you're trying to look after your voice.


Caffeine

As I mentioned earlier, caffeine can have a drying effect on the throat. If your throat is feeling a bit dry, then it's probably best to go with a decaf option. (Sorry, coffee fans.)


Dairy Foods

Anything made from milk tends to increase mucus production, so if you're feeling like your throat is a bit mucusy, this is one you'll probably want to avoid. I actually know plenty of singers who can't sing at all if they've had any dairy before singing - regardless of whether or not they're sick - so keep this in mind if you're having trouble singing after eating dairy.


Menthol

This can be a controversial one, because it's found in most of the throat lozenges on the planet (including lozenges designed for singers!) but it can have a drying effect on the throat. Personally, I've found that I'm much better off avoiding menthol if I can. My throat isn't really a fan - I'll use water or honey teas to soothe my throat instead.


Alcohol

Alcohol is another culprit for drying the throat. There's a lot of people (myself included) who can't sing at all if they've had just a small amount of alcohol - in my case, I'm talking about less than a single standard drink.


Cigarettes

At this point, I think most of us know how bad cigarettes are for your voice and lungs, so I don't think it will surprise many people when I say they're not going to help your voice - whether you're sick or not.


Of course, this leads us to the question of vaping, and I actually can't answer that. Vaping hasn't really been popular long enough for us to get a good idea about the effect it has on the voice and lungs, but at this point it doesn't look great. Personally, I have no intention of inhaling anything that's not air.


Let's Talk About Throat Lozenges


Probably the most common advice you'll here if you have a sore throat is to suck on a throat lozenge. This is generally pretty good advice, but if you're planning to sing, then you might want to reconsider.


Here's the thing; it should never hurt to sing. If you're feeling pain in your throat when you're singing chances are you're doing something you shouldn't - if you're singing while sick and your voice or throat starts to hurt, your body is sending you a message. In this case, to please stop singing and give your voice a rest.


This pain response is actually a blessing, because if we listen to our body's cues and stop singing when it starts hurting, we can avoid doing damage to our voices. However, if you numb the throat with a throat lozenge, you're effectively turning off this warning system. So, if you suck on a lozenge when before you sing, be aware that you might not feel the pain or discomfort which warns you to stop singing.


Often, if you're planning to sing, it's a better option to either avoid the lozenges until you've finished singing or to use a lozenge that won't numb your throat.


Remember You'll Be Better Soon!


When we get sick it's really easy to feel like we'll never be able to sing properly again - especially if you end up with one of those colds that just won't go away. (I remember getting a cold a few years back that came with a 12 week cough. I had to rest my voice for almost the entire time - it sucked.) So, give it some time, rest your voice, and remember to go and speak to your Doctor if you're unsure of anything.


Oh, and here's a quick infographic that can help you remember everything in this post, so you can save it for later and grab it out when you need it.


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