There is nothing worse than waking up on a day you have to sing and feeling that dreaded tickle in your throat or that icky feeling in your nose. First thing’s first, don’t panic! Take a deep breath, grab your water bottle, and remember the WAR method:
W: Water, water, water, water, WATER! First thing you should do, as soon as you start feeling under the weather, is start drinking water. It takes a few hours for water to filter through your body and reach your vocal folds, so start drinking ASAP.
Another great way to hydrate more quickly is to use a steamer or a nebulizer. These products create steam that you inhale to get hydration directly to the vocal folds. If you don’t have a steamer, you can always use a pot of boiling water and place a towel over your head.
A: Assess. If you feel well enough to, you can start light easy exercises like singing through a straw or humming. Make a note of where your voice is breaking or where the notes get fuzzy. As you warm up, does your voice start feeling better or worse?
It’s important to know when you must push through vs when it’s time to call out or reschedule. If you have a voice lesson, I always recommend rescheduling! If you have a rehearsal, see if you can mark or mouth your parts. If you have a show, determine if you need to call out. When we’re sick, it’s easier to have a vocal injury, so don’t be afraid to call out for one show to avoid calling out for a longer period of time.
If you notice that your symptoms last over 3 weeks or there is consistently a part of your voice that is fuzzy or won’t phonate, it might be a good idea to visit an ENT or laryngologist to make sure there isn’t something else going on.
R: Rest. Resting your voice is one of the best things you can do. Think of it like you’re a runner and you pulled your hamstring. If you keep running on your hamstring without giving it time to rest, you will only continue reinjuring your leg. Same goes with the voice! If you must sing or talk, make sure you do it with your full voice. Whispering or talking too quietly can actually be more taxing than speaking normally.
If you must sing, only warm up to the point where you can phonate comfortably. Don’t overexert your voice during the warm up and save your vocal energy as much as possible.
Some other helpful vocal health tips:
Learn about vocal health before illness or injury and make sure you have a plan. Talk with your voice teacher about vocal health while you are well and take note of what your “normal” feels like, so that you can easily identify when you feel unwell.
Be aware of the medications and supplements you are taking. Lots of cough suppressant and allergy medications are really dehydrating, so you may need more water. Use lozenges that do not contain menthol or numbing products as you want to be able to feel if there is pain when you sing. Pain is our body’s natural indicator, so we don’t want to entirely get rid of it if we are planning to sing.
Know the singing product myths. We’ll talk more about this in a future blog post, but many products marketed to singers actually do very little for your vocal folds or for improving vocal quality. Products like tea, lozenges, throat sprays that are commonly recommended can certainly make your throat feel better and may prevent coughing, but they don’t do anything specifically for the vocal folds.
So if you wake up sick, remember to take a deep breath, rest up, and when in doubt drink more water. Feel better soon!
If you have questions about staying vocally healthy, drop a comment or set up a lesson with Celia here to build your own vocal health plan!