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Laryngitis can cost a singer opportunity and money, or just turn a fun gig into a struggle. There are several causes for laryngitis. This article addresses the easiest one to prevent and fix: illness.
As a singer/songwriter touring through Europe used to be tough on the throat for me. I often spent six to ten weeks at a pop crammed inside a van, sometimes ten gigs in a row without a rest. Shows lasted hours, clubs were clouds of smoke, I generally could not hear myself through shoddy house system monitors. I was meeting hundreds of people, getting little sleep, and not enough exercise. It was difficult to avoid sickness, hoarseness and laryngitis.
I take much better care of myself now. As a vocal coach, I’m one of those “I never get sick” people. I cannot remember the last time I lost my voice due to illness until recently, a week before my scheduled taping on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” I carelessly kissed my sick child on the lips and got a fever of 102. There was absolutely no voice coming out the day before the show. My vocal cords were swollen. It was all air.
Students often ask me about laryngitis treatment. Prevention is the best medicine, and when possible, rest is the best solution, but I also have a 24 hour cure for the times a singer feels she must sing.
Prevention: Drink water, take your vitamins (I use Gan Mao Ling if I feel something coming on, recommended by my acupuncturist, Dr. Andrea Natta), get rest, wash your hands often, avoid too much alcohol or caffeine. For hoarseness in the mornings, try sleeping with your head slightly propped up, avoiding spicy or acidic foods several hours before going to bed, in case minor acid reflux is the culprit. For arid climates or dry air due to heating, use a hot steam vaporizer on a low setting – too much steam can cause mold, and many people are allergic to mold. Avoid stress and emotional upset before shows or recording. On airplanes, bring a hoody sweatshirt and wear it backwards with the hood over your face or wrap a scarf around your mouth to protect your voice from dry air. Also, try a sleep collar – I like it better than pillows, because it keeps my throat warm and I get better rest.
Below is the regimen I used to ged rid of my laryngitis caused by phlegm and swollen cords, because I got cocky about preventing illness. I regained my voice 80% – enough for the show taping. I recommend only doing this, if you have to and think hard about if you have to or not. I felt missing the taping of this show would be too big an opportunity to lose. If you can cancel the show and rest – REST. You should not follow the regimen without talking to your doctor. Fortunately, my voice student Dr. Sam Adams is also an internist in San Francisco, and he reviewed the regimen with me. I want to emphasize that this is my 24 hour cure for laryngitis that is caused by sickness only. I will cover other causes of laryngitis including strain, overuse and polyps in future articles. Also, remember not to push your voice when you regain it. Take it easy. Come back slowly and reschedule anything you can reschedule.
2 ibuprofen* (total of 400mg) every six hours. Check with your doctor first. Ibuprofen brings down swelling and masks pain. Remember not to push or strain your voice, if you are using ibuprofen in your treatment.
1 aspirin* every four hrs., aspirin chewed and swallowed slowly without water, allowed to sit on the throat. After 15-20 minutes, sips of temperate water.
Note from Dr. Sam Adams:
“Ibuprofen can be used for short periods of time. But, singers should check with a doctor before starting, especially if they have other medical conditions. Using aspirin in combination with ibuprofen is acceptable, but gives a higher risk of an ulcer or other gastrointestinal irritation. Again, singers should check with their doctors before using these medications.”
At least 12oz of water every hour.
Lots of steam (loosens phlegm which stops the cords from vibrating). Pour boiling water in a bowl and put a towel over your head and the bowl creating a small tent. Breathe in steam through nose and mouth alternatively for ten minutes. Repeat every hour.
Honey and lemon in chamomile tea (not too hot). Chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Mucus thinner cough suppressant every 4 hrs.
NO PSEUDOEPHEDRINE! Pseudoephedrine dries the mucus to your cords. The goal is to get the mucus off the cords.
Lots of sleep with the head raised, so the cords swell less while resting.
No talking. No whispering (worse than talking).
Moderate exercise to increase circulation. If you’re up to it, take a brisk walk. Increased blood flow reduces swelling in the body.
A positive and calm attitude. Once you’re sick, any added stress can further compromise your immune system and make you sicker. Don’t talk at all, and especially do not discuss anything that might be upsetting.
A few SIPS of cognac an hour before singing. (Again, this masks pain. Don’t sing hard. Take it easy and just a few sips. Too much alcohol is not good for the voice.)
If you’ve lost your voice, take it easy when you begin to regain it. Don’t push your voice – this can cause damage that can take a long time to heal. The body is not a machine. If you are in doubt, let go of the vaudevillian “show must go on” axiom and reschedule if possible. Be judicious when choosing to sing if you are ill. Better safe, than injured.
One of the top vocal coaches in NYC for many years, Ruth Gerson has taught voice, songwriting and performance at Princeton University. She currently runs San Francisco Vocal Coaching and also teaches at Blue Bear School of Musicand The Music Center in San Francisco. As an independent artist, Gerson has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” the entertainment news show “Extra,” PBS, Showtime, HBO and Lifetime television. She has performed at the Newport Folk Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, High Sierra Music Fests and many more. Her career has included vocals on many popular jingles, as well as back-up vocals/keyboards for Gloria Gaynor. Her latest album Deceived is produced by five time Grammy winner, Rick Chertoff and William Wittman. Gerson has opened for Dave Matthews, Lisa Loeb, The Indigo Girls and Steven Wright. Gerson moved to the Bay Area in August of 2009 and has rapidly become one of the most in-demand vocal coaches in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.
The BEST of the best vocal coaches in NYC. She gets exceptional results with singers on all levels. I have been amazed. I recommend her highly whether you are a beginner or a seasoned performer.
– Lisa Barbaris
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