Can You Sing While Sick: The Singers Guide to Protecting Your Vocal Cords
Singing while sick is not a black-and-white issue: Whether or not you can perform while sick depends on various factors. Sometimes, singing when you are sick can be accomplished safely simply through natural remedies!
This article will explain how to know if you are in need of vocal lessons, vocal rest, or are in fact injured.
Once you are through the woods and back to physical health, how can you avoid any interruptions to a future great performance? Let’s look at the natural remedies and habits all singers should implement into their lifestyle so that they never have to sing with a cold again! From taking care of your sinus cavity through the winter months to the importance of sleep…
This is the ultimate guide on how to get your voice back and keep it.
Before You Start Singing
The first thing any singer should do when they feel agitation is consider the symptoms. A singer can assess themselves for symptoms of being sick by paying attention to changes in their voice such as hoarseness, loss of range, coughing, and fatigue. Other symptoms to look out for include the more obvious body symptoms like a runny nose, throat pain, body aches, low energy levels, and fever. These are pretty solid signs of the common cold.
But what about if it’s not a common cold? What should you do if you experience symptoms like an inflamed throat, voice cracks, loss of access to low notes or high notes, or jaw pain? It may be time to dive deeper and try to decipher if your way of activating vocal cord action is not only incorrect, but hurting you!
Distinguishing a Sore Throat from Poor Vocal Technique
Understanding how to sing when you are sick is a question that many vocalists face at some point in their careers. Even harder: knowing whether the answer to their problem is vocal lessons, going on vocal rest or seeking professional help for serious vocal injuries.
With the flu and cold seasons made year-round with the emergence of Covid-19, taking your vocal health seriously has never been more critical. You must be able to distinguish between discomfort from poor technique and signs of strep throat or dehydration! Singers cannot afford to be detached from their bodies: know when to rest your voice, when it’s time to work with a vocal coach, and when something serious – such as vocal nodules – could be to blame.
So, It’s Poor Vocal Technique
It’s not always easy to determine the cause of strain in your voice, as it can be caused by both illness and poor vocal technique. If you’re experiencing a sore throat without any typical cold symptoms, it may be due to poor singing technique. This can happen when you strain your voice, such as by singing too loudly, singing without warm ups, not giving yourself enough voice rest, improperly hitting high notes, or unnecessary tensions in the body.
It is important to be mindful of how you’re using your voice. By understanding the root cause of your pain, you can take the necessary steps to protect your vocal health and maintain your singing voice. We strongly encourage you to prioritize working with a vocal coach to assess your technique. If you believe voice lessons may be the fix you need, make sure to speak with someone who can direct you to a qualified teacher.
What Works Wonders For Pain From Singing? Voice Lessons.
Consistent vocal lessons with a professional instructor can help singers develop good technique and reach the level of proficiency needed to overcome the effects of illness on their voice. A skilled instructor can guide singers through proper warm-up exercises, demonstrate techniques for preserving the voice, and provide constructive feedback to not only help them make progress, but assess if something is potentially damaging to their voice.
Regular singing lessons can also provide a safe and supportive environment for singers to practice their skills and refine their technique. With dedication and practice, singers can develop the level of skill needed to maintain a strong and healthy voice, even when feeling unwell.
If your voice is well-trained and you have control over your breathing and tone, it becomes easier to modify your singing style to accommodate any limitations caused by illness. This means you can still deliver a quality performance without putting too much strain on your voice, minimizing the risk of further damage.
How To Treat Vocal Chords When You Are Sick
It’s understandable that you may be feeling overwhelmed when your voice is not working properly due to an illness and not due to any vocal technique issues or serious injuries. We know that you want to kick the cold and get back to singing as fast as possible. To be honest, the fastest way to get back to 100% health when sick will always be going full potato: vocal rest, drink water, steam, sleep, and healthy foods.
Vocal rest when sick does not need to be complete silence. You may benefit from gentle activation of your vocal cords to help you speak properly even when experiencing hoarseness. When we speak with healthy technique, we protect and nurture our singing voice. Since the two live in the same place: your speaking voice is your singing voice.
There are also several lifestyle and self care strategies we suggest to coerce your voice back to its gorgeous self.
Gargling with Salt Water
When you’re feeling under the weather and your throat is sore, gargling with can provide much-needed relief. Salt water helps to reduce inflammation and remove mucus from the throat, while the steam from a hot shower can soothe and moisturize the vocal cords.
To make a saltwater gargle, simply mix a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water and gargle for 30 seconds. Repeat as needed, but avoid swallowing the saltwater mixture.
Drinking Plenty of Fluids
Stay hydrated to maintain the health of vocal cords. Dehydration can cause the vocal cords to become dry and irritated, leading to hoarseness, reduced vocal range, and even injury. Adequate hydration is crucial for keeping the vocal cords lubricated, which helps to prevent friction and injury.
Drinking water throughout the day, especially before singing, can help to keep your vocal cords in top shape. Additionally, it’s important to limit the consumption of dehydrating substances like caffeine and alcohol, which can further dry out the vocal cords. You may also work a regular habit into your routine by using warm steam to keep your chords hydrated.
Throat Coat Tea
While staying hydrated is crucial for vocal health, some singers also turn to warm tea for additional benefits. Warm tea is believed to soothe the throat and improve singing. Look for warm tea with slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root, as well as green tea and black tea in moderation. These teas contain properties that can help to relieve soreness, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. However, it’s important to remember that excessive tea drinking can have a dehydrating effect, so be sure to balance it with plenty of water.
Maintain Good Gut Health
Studies show that digestive problems can lead to throat inflammation and negatively impact your voice. To maintain good gut health, follow a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as dairy products. Some singers choose to avoid dairy due to its effects on the voice, such as mucus buildup and hoarseness. Try eliminating dairy from your diet for a few weeks to see if it affects your voice.
Using warm steam for hydration can be done by taking hot water in a bowl and placing a towel over your head and the bowl of water. Make sure to breathe deeply through your nose and mouth to inhale steam into your nasal passages. This is a brilliant supplement to aid in hydrating your body in addition to ample fluid intake. Get that nasal cavity and upper respiratory tract lubricated!
Vitamin C and Collagen for Singers
As a singer, having a healthy voice is essential to perform at your best. Vitamin C is an important nutrient that can help support your vocal health in a number of ways. This powerful antioxidant helps to boost your immune system, fight off infections, and reduce inflammation, all of which can have a positive impact on your voice.
Additionally, vitamin C plays a role in the production of collagen, a protein that is important for maintaining the health of the tissues in your vocal cords. By ensuring that you are getting enough vitamin C in your diet, you can help to protect and support your voice, so you can continue to sing to your full potential.
When to Go On Vocal Rest
Vocal rest is an important part of maintaining a healthy singing voice, but knowing when to take a complete extended break can be challenging. Some signs that it may be time for vocal rest include extreme hoarseness, a loss of speaking voice, or pain when singing. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to avoid speaking or singing for a period of time to allow your vocal cords to recover.
To know for sure if vocal rest is what you need, consult an ENT who can perform a laryngoscopy to scope your vocal cords and look for serious injuries. If there is no medical issue address by the ENT but you still feel pain or irregular activity when singing, you may also consult a speech-language pathologist or a singing voice specialist for a professional evaluation and recommendations.
To Perform or Not To Perform?
Like all things in life, balance is required here too.If you are contagious, it is not recommended to publicly perform. However, if the gig is important and understudies are not an option, you may need to find ways to save the day.
When making a decision, consider the potential impact on your reputation. Ask yourself if canceling the performance would cause damage or if performing poorly would be worse. It is also important to consider the quality of performance you want to give your audience. If you are feeling too tired or vocally fatigued to give a performance up to your standards, it may be best to reschedule or cancel the gig.
Pushing through a performance while sick can only lead to further damage to your voice and prolong the healing process. Although it may be challenging, it may be necessary to reschedule or cancel your performance in order to give your voice the time it needs to fully recover. By prioritizing your health, you’ll be able to get back to performing at your best soon.
In the end, you have to make a choice that is right for you and your voice. If the road ahead is still unclear, you can book a lesson or consultation with a professional vocalist who has been through difficult situations and can assess your voice to give advice.
Learning to Sing While Sick:
Skill is Everything!
If you decide that the show must go on, then you need to have the tools to give the performance your audience expects even when you don’t feel at your best.
Poor technique can amplify the symptoms of hoarseness, loss of vocal range, and prolong the period of time your voice is unusable for singing. It can also potentially cause pain while singing and even lead to losing your voice altogether.
To counteract the effects of illness, singers should have a good understanding of their voice and proper techniques such as mastering chest voice, support through breath control, and using more head voice through the passaggio. It is vital to be aware of the limitations imposed by illness on your singing.
Rather than solely relying on belting to get through a performance, singers with strong technique can play with different tones and styles, making it easier to preserve their voice even when feeling fatigued. By focusing on proper technique, you can minimize the impact of illness on the voice and maintain the longevity of your singing career.
So, Can You Sing While Sick?
In conclusion, whether or not you should “sing while sick” depends on the severity of your symptoms, your skill level, and the stakes involved.
Technique related: Hold Your Horses.
A sore throat can be a sign that your vocal cords are strained and in need of rest. This would mean that your pain is related to your technique and can be addressed with vocal rest and working with a singing teacher. Proper vocal technique is not only a valuable asset for a singer, but will save you from injury.
Once you have confirmed with an ENT that your pain is not due to severe injury, you should look at finding a vocal coach who can help you perform without pain. Good technique will help you sound great even when you are fighting a cold, as it can prevent damage to the vocal cords and allow for creative vocal choices.
Until you have seen an ENT or at least worked with a vocal coach, we do not suggest performing, The way you are currently using your voice is hurting it.
This needs to be addressed immediately.
Physical Illness: Assess the Situation
When you feel a cold coming and have a performance on the horizon, it is time to make some hard decisions. While it’s possible to sing with a sore throat, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of performing. Singing while sick can cause further damage to the vocal cords and worsen symptoms, leading to long-term vocal problems.
We suggest you rest, drink tea (we love throat coat tea), steer clear of loud environments like the bar, and give your body time to heal. If you incorporate the use of herbal tea, warm ups, vitamin supplements for your immune system, and remember to drink plenty of fluids, you will recover your voice and physical health much faster.
That said, sometimes you need to perform and we get that.
Worst Case Solutions
Doctors have been prescribing steroids for singers to reduce swelling in the vocal folds, but this option has some negative effects on the voice. If you have decided to perform while sick, you may choose to rely on adrenaline, which can be a lifesaver in high-stakes situations.
Make sure to ask your ENT about the potential consequences of using steroids.
While this article aims to provide guidance, it is always best to consult an ENT doctor or laryngologist if you have concerns about your voice. If you are still unsure, you can book a lesson or consultation with a professional to find the best solution for you.
Written by Vocal Coach Tylor Van Riper and Express Voice Studio Founder Jordanne Erichsen