Singing With A Cold: Medical Maintenance Part 3
As the winter winds roll in and cold and flu seasons begin to descend, you may feel like everyone you know has a cold. You may feel like you can’t breathe out of your nose. You may even feel sinus pressure building in the maxillary sinus, that part just below your eyes along your cheeks. When that happens, singers find it especially difficult to sing. We rely on nasal resonance when we’re singing, and ailments like a cold, flu, or sinus infection can prevent us from even feeling that resonance space—let alone using it effectively!
Singing with a cold sucks. If you’re a singer suffering from a cold, sinus infection, or flu, you may be tempted to reach for a decongestant to make the experience easier. Before you do, here are some things you should know about singing with a cold:
1. Decongestants may be your friend.
Decongestants work by shrinking blood vessels in your nasal membranes. This allows more air to flow through your nasal passages. By reducing the swelling in your nasal passages, you may also be able to relieve some of that awful sinus pressure. That lack of pressure will make singing with a cold much easier!
Recommended decongestant: Sudafed. I’ve found that it’s the most effective medication for reducing swelling in the nasal passages without drying out your vocal cords.
2. You may need an analgesic (pain reliever).
Analgesics are sometimes necessary to reduce pain and promote healing when singing with a cold. Not only do pain relievers help to reduce the pain you feel in your throat or sinus passages, but they also serve as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling.
Recommended analgesic: Tylenol. Tylenol can help to significantly reduce pain in your throat without many side effects.
3. Be wary of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Although most NSAIDs are fairly effective at reducing inflammation, they work by dilating your circulatory capillaries. They also stretch open vessels like veins and arteries by thinning the walls. This process is called vasodilation. When you have a heavy singing schedule and you’re singing with a cold, avoid the use of vasodilators. You run a greater risk of injuring your vocal cords or causing a hemorrhage when your blood and its vessels have been forcefully thinned. Plus, when you sing a high note, your blood pressure increases! Additionally, if you’re prone to migraines, taking NSAIDs may perpetuate the problem instead of offering a workable solution.
Recommended NSAID: None. While aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are all effective in relieving pain, the risks far outweigh the benefits when you’re singing with a cold. Avoid Advil, Motrin, Midol, Aleve, and Bayer as best you can.
4. Nasal steroids may be better than oral steroids.
When you’re singing with a cold, someone may recommend that you take a nasal steroid to clear any nasal congestion. Nasal steroids are also used often to treat allergy symptoms. Nasal steroids as a whole seem pretty harmless for singers. However, if you notice that the post-nasal drip that follows a dose of nasal steroid irritates your throat, you should find something else to take to alleviate your symptoms.
Recommended nasal steroid: Nasocort, Flonase, Rhinocort, and Allergy 24HR are all decent treatments and are available over the counter. Nasonex, Dymista, Nasarel, Onasl, Vancenase, Beconase, Veramyst, and Zetonna are only available with a prescription from your physician, allergist, or Ear Nose & Throat specialist (ENT).
5. Homeopathic remedies are always an option.
While homeophathic treatments are not necessarily proven, there are many singers who believe that homeopathic remedies help them. Some of the singers with whom I’ve worked swear by tea with honey, tea with lemon, ginger, peppermint tea, licorice root tea, Throat Coat tea, propolis, and jarrah honey. If you believe any of these might help you when you’re singing with a cold, please give them a try. Just know that, of all the things you ingest, nothing but humid air will ever touch your vocal cords. Foods like ginger and apple cider vinegar are antimicrobial, so you may consider adding them to your normal routine to prevent an infection or virus that may hinder your ability to sing.
Don’t wait until you’re singing with a cold to take good care of your vocal cords! Make sure you stay hydrated and allow yourself plenty of rest to avoid contracting an infection. However, if you find that you’re singing with a cold, know that there is no medicinal substitute for good vocal technique. Having good vocal technique will allow you to sing well consistently—whether you’re singing with a cold or not!
To make sure you’re practicing proper vocal technique and doing everything you can to keep your voice healthy and functioning properly, contact the Brian Schexnayder Vocal Studio and schedule a lesson today!