With the winter months comes an influx in colds. Upper respiratory illnesses are common and can affect the vocal abilities and performance of singers. Sometimes, postponing a performance is not an option. There are some things you can do to help – here’s how to sing with a cold.
How a Cold Affects Your Voice
You may be surprised to know that mucus is actually a good thing. Your body produces nearly 1.5 liters of mucus every day when it’s doing its job properly and when you’re healthy.
This mucus stops soft tissue from drying out and keeping your nasal passages, throat, and vocal cords lubricated. It also helps to trap and stop invading particles, like dust, from entering the body.
Your vocal folds are coated by the mucus, keeping them nice and lubricated, allowing you to create a sound when you speak or sing. The folds would rub together and become dry, causing irritation, inflammation, and soreness, without the mucus.
Along with keeping your vocal cords moist, mucus helps protect your body from bacteria because it contains antibodies that fight viruses and enzymes, which destroy unwanted invaders. Mucus really protects the epithelial tissues in your body from facing certain derailments.
When you are sick, particularly with a cold, you will notice that you have excess mucus in various colors, from white to yellow, to green, either in your throat or coming out of your nose. As disturbing and uncomfortable as it is, it is your body’s way of fighting the infection and trying to protect you from greater sickness.
How Do You Sing with a Cold?
The best thing for a cold is to rest, especially since your body will be achy, tired from working overtime to attack the virus that is attacking it.
However, if you absolutely have to sing with a cold, and there is no way around it, there are some things you can do to help ease the pain and fatigue that comes with this ailment.
- Take over the counter pain medications to help with sinus congestion or headaches
- Vitamins, such as Vitamin C, Echinacea, Zinc, Probiotics, etc., will help boost your immune system and give you energy to fight the cold faster
- While warming up your vocal cords, be sure to take it a bit easier than usual, and mind the fact that your vocal cords may be swollen, and you may need to lower your octave a notch to be able to hit the wider range notes without stressing yourself and causing further damage
- You can also hold your head (covered by a towel) over a steaming bowl of water to do the same thing, as well as taking a hot shower
- Drinking warm, not hot or cold, fluids will help keep your vocal cords in good condition, and adding 100% real honey will help ease the pain in your throat, as honey has healing components
- Gargling with salt water with steam will help clear away phlegm from the vocal cord
- Slowly ease into your singing routine, being sure to properly warm up your voice
The Best Products for Singers with Colds
Singers recommend some products as tried and true, and if you’re really struggling with a sore, inflamed throat, they could be worth a try.
Throat Coat Tea
Many singers have this tea on hand in case they are suffering from a variety of throat ailments. This tea will provide a great amount of comfort as it coats your throat with a warm layer of organic ingredients.
A humidifier next to your bed will help loosen any sticky mucus and will help moisturize the cords, so they are flexible. This method allows for your sinuses to open and drain faster, as well as reducing coughing and sneezing.
Another good product to have on hand is Zicam, for cold and allergy relief. It contains Zinc, which is good for healing wounds and immune function, among other benefits. This product will provide relief from dryness in the throat as well as discomfort.
Neti Pots are a sinus rinse that is poured into one side of your nose and drips out the other side. It’s not attractive, feels a little weird, but it works at clearing out the sinuses.
Your nasal cavity and throat are connected, and when the Neti Pot clears your sinuses, it is also riding your body of unwanted extra mucus dripping down your throat.
These tablets are put into water and turn it into a cup of Vitamin C bliss. Vitamin C has an enormous amount of value to the body, including the common assumption that it will help cure a common cold quicker.
While it isn’t actually proven that Vitamin C helps cure colds, it is great for a host of other ailments and preventative measures that can help you get back on your feet quicker.
How to Sing Through Congestion
With many colds comes congestion of the sinus cavity, causing you to sound like an operator from the 50s who can’t pronounce certain letters of the alphabet. There’s a way you can try to combat this ailment as well:
- Avoid dairy, as this is a common cause for congestion in the sinuses, even without a cold
- Using a Neti-pot is one way to clean out the nasal passage
- Use a saline-based nose spray or other non-medicinal sprays to keep the nasal passages lubricated
- Hot showers are a great way to clear out the nasal passage
- Keep your fluid intake up (water and other natural drinks) to help thin out the mucus that blocks the sinuses
- Just as they do in a spa, get a hot towel and put it over your nose and forehead to help alleviate any congestion
- Sleeping with your head elevated slightly will help you breathe easier and help keep mucus from pooling in the nasal passage
Using Cold Medication
You should avoid using any cold medications or numbing sprays on your throat. To be more specific, here are a few things that you should avoid when you are trying to rid yourself of a cold or alleviate symptoms so that you can sing:
Decongestants may bring you relief, and for someone who doesn’t need to sing, that may be fine, but you want to avoid them. Decongestants shrink blood vessels in the nose to stop them from producing excess mucus.
While these do a good job of clearing your nasal passage so you can breathe easier, they can also do one of two things that you don’t want to have happen.
- They prevent you from producing enough mucus to keep your throat and nasal coated, leaving your throat dry and vocal cords compromised
- Your body can become dependent on the decongestant, and unless you are taking it, your body will produce an excess of mucus
Numbing Throat Spray
A numbing throat spray will alleviate the pain of inflammation right away; it will also remove your ability to feel how much you are straining your voice while singing.
It’s similar to going to hot yoga before a workout; your body won’t feel how much it’s straining the muscles which can cause damage. The same thing will happen if you can’t feel the strain in your vocal cords due to a numbing throat spray.
It’s best to avoid the numbing throat sprays altogether.
Medication with Alcohol
Avoid any medication with alcohol in it, as it will dry out your vocal cords and subsequently your voice. This will increase the amount of mucus your body produces, which you do not want. Avoid alcohol altogether, in medications or otherwise, when you need to sing.
If you are unsure of what to take, talk to your doctor about what might be a safe alternative.
There are several ailments that can strike fear into a singer, but none more so than a cold. However, there are some preventative measures that you can take to prevent such illness from bringing darkness upon your vibrato.
Plenty of Rest
You must know how much sleep you need to function fully and then get that rest consistently. Along with sleep, you must rest your vocals regularly and take some time to drink the throat coat tea or warm water with honey to keep your instrument pitch-perfect.
Don’t allow yourself to get run down and feel achy or tired before deciding to slow down. Be aware of your limits and how much you can put into a day before you are putting your body at risk of being overworked and vulnerable to various bugs. Take care not to overexert yourself on your singing exercises, take it easy!
Plenty of Fluids
Water is the best fluid that your body can get, and you need to stay hydrated and rid your body of germs that cause colds. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day will keep your vocal cords well lubricated and able to vibrate with less friction.
It takes time for the water to be beneficial to the vocal cords, as is the case with every other part of our body that is hydrated, so drinking plenty of water every day, not just when you are thirsty, is essential. By the time our body is craving water, we are already dehydrated, and our body is suffering.
Not only is your voice a beautiful instrument, but your entire body is as well, and it needs to be taken care of every day. Exercise is essential for all of our muscles, organs, and the oxygen that feeds into the bloodstream.
Being in good physical health will make it less likely that you will become ill in the first place, and if you do, it will be easier and faster for you to recover. Exercise will also help build up your lung capacity, which is the golden goose for every singer.
There is nothing worse for your vocal cords than to smoke. Smoking irritates vocal cords and is extremely drying, so your body will compensate with secretions that make it necessary for you to clear your throat, which will cause more irritation.
Instead of wondering how to sing with a cold, you’ll be wondering how to set back the clock and get your voice back.
Smoking is also known to cause reflux, a condition in which the contents (acid) from your stomach travel back up the esophagus, causing inflammation. The worst-case scenario could cause esophageal cancer. Singers use abdominal pressure for breathing while singing, so they are prone to reflux.
Don’t Sing Through Pain
Some singers decide to sing even though their throat is sore, and it causes extreme comfort to do so. When this is the case, it could be worse than a cold, and you could be pushing yourself and your vocal cords beyond a limit that can cause irreparable damage.
While you’re wondering how to sing with a cold, remember It’s best to let your sore throat rest, do what you can, and above all else, once you feel back to your healthy self, keep up a proper health regime.
James is an ex-writer for Music Grotto who focused the majority of his writing on the musical skill development content on the publication. His 20+ year career as a singing and vocal coach provided insightful content for the website, and his continued thirst for development in guitar and piano playing helped create some excellent skill development content for the publication.