One uncomfortable, still unavoidable situation in a humans’ life is to get sick from time to time. I guess, we all have experienced symptoms like sneezing, running nose, sore throat or coughing.
While usually it’s advised to keep calm and wait until it’s over, a singer may still have some obligations. What if you’ve scheduled a gig, you’ve been waiting for a long time? What if there’s an important audition?
Though, things may seem bad at first sight, there are some ways to get your ailing voice back in shape.
What’s your diagnosis?
Before you think about a proper remedy, you have to clarify the cause of your symptoms.
Most of the times, it’s just a harmless viral infection – known as the classic cold. Bear in mind that a pollen allergy shows same symptoms as a cold (running nose, running eyes, cough, raw throat). You can develop an allergy anytime, even if you haven’t had one for your whole life.
Now, lets take a look at different diseases/symptoms, what you can do about it and how it affects your singing performance.
- Very common disease, especially during winter. Often starts with sneezing and/or sore throat, followed by running nose, stuffy nose and finally cough. A typical cold lasts for 7-10 days.
- Treatment: Aspirin complex, nasal spray, saline nasal spray,
- Singers’ Advice: Depending on the stadium you’re in and unless singing is painful, you can push yourself to sing through a whole gig.
Raw or sore throat
- This can sometimes happen even without having caught a cold. Although soreness indicates an inflammatory process within your throat, it can only be of little interference with your singing.
- Treatment: Throat lozenges for moistening and/or pain relief
- Singers’ advice: Enter the stage!
- When you want to talk, but not much sound comes out of your mouth, your vocal chords are swollen, so that the can’t close together. I was once confronted with hoarseness that lasted 3 whole weeks. There is no remedy for croakiness. Forget all about inhaling.
- Treatment: Shut up. When you have to speak, speak “normally”, don’t whisper.
- Singers’ advice: Don’t sing at all. Trying to push a husky voice can lead to real damage in the long run.
- This is a real bad boy, because not only does your larynx hurt due to inflammation, but it’s also accompanied with hoarseness.
- Treatment: Pain killers/anti-inflammatory drugs containing ibuprofen like Motrin. (daily dose should be between 400mg and 1200mg). Additionally, throat lozenges to moisten the throat.
- Singers’ Advice: Cancel all vocal appointments.
- Although symptoms are similar to a cold, the root cause of an allergy is totally different. An allergy is an errant overreaction of the immune system to something that’s totally innocuous.
- Treatment: Antihistamine drugs, antihistamine nose spray
- Singers’ advice: Treat the symptoms and rock the stage!
Play it smart
When you feel just a little sick and experience mild cold symptoms few days before a gig, there’s no need to panic. Instead, play it smart and follow these rules:
- Assumed you have studied your repertoire inside out, I would recommend doing a short warm-up every day, focusing on “humming” and “buzzing” as described in professional vocal warm up
- Try to avoid talking (too much) during the day, especially on the day of your gig
- When you still have to practice your songs, only mark the higher notes. Means, don’t sing them in full voice, but mark the pitch in head voice or falsetto.
- Avoid drinking coffee, black tea and alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Always keep your throat moisturized with throat lozenges like GeloRrevoice
Honestly, there’s not much you can do to avoid catching a cold once in a while.
Sure, you can pop vitamin pills every day, if it makes you feel better. But there’s no scientific evidence that this really helps.
With one exception: Zinc is the only supplement that showed faster recovery from a cold in multiple studies. If taken at the very beginning, Zinc can even repress the disease by blocking certain receptors. For me, that’s remedy no.1 if I start sneezing.
If you fancy homeopathic medicine more, you can definitely try out some drops to get your immune system activated and overcome a cold in an early stage.
To catch a cold doesn’t always mean to cancel a gig. For most symptoms there are effective remedies available, that can help you make it through a show. It’s upon your decision if you want to pass on a vocal performance or if you want to try everything to manage to show up.
Unless you are in pain when singing, it’s legitimate to go for it.
The proper treatment and preparation can get your voice up and running.
What’s your recommended cure?
6 thoughts on “How to sing with a cold – remedies and tips”
I play guitar in a covers band and I sometimes do backing vocals, so your post definitely resonates with me.
Our singer is a female and she does sometimes suffer with illnesses as we all do, so I am going to forward this on to her to hopefully give help.
Thanks for sharing and all the best,
Great Tom! Thanks for sharing it with her.
Wow! I love that there are so many remedies out there (I had no clue there were so many). This will prove useful to any singer or performer in a pinch.
One remedy that my family uses is hot water with lemon, syrup, and cayenne pepper.
Another neat throat comforter is something they used on the set of The Lord Of The Rings. The actor for Gollum and Smeagol would get so raw when doing the voice for hours at a time, so they came up with “Gollum juice” – Hot water, honey, and ginger.
Not sure how these remedies would work right before a gig, but who knows?
Thanks for the well written article. Keep up the excellent work!
Thanks for the secret recipe of Gollum juice 🙂 Sure, honey is good for the throat and has also antibacterial effects. Ginger is a great stimulans for the immune system and the lemon works as an antioxidant.
Hi Felix, I agree that prevention is the very best approach! I highly recommend zinc too. When I get a cold it tends to last for ages, and zinc has been helpful to me in helping me recover quicker. Great advice.
Hi Melissa, one bonus tip: In the first 3 days of a beginning cold, you should increase the dosage of Zinc to 80mg/day. After 3-days go down to 30mg.
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