#15  To Sing Or Not To Sing

And when our voice is affected by an upper respiratory infection…that is the question! 

Understanding  how the  vocal folds function might help us decide.

Due to the fact that there are no pain receptor cells on the vocal folds, the only indication that there is swelling on the folds will be by how the voice responds.  If the voice feels weak or swollen, and sounds hoarse or fuzzy, one  presses the folds together harder to make them phonate, and that produces more friction and heat on the folds that can make them more inflamed and susceptible to injury.

Kate DeVore and Starr Cookman, both voice/speech pathologists have written a good book on voice care entitled “The Voice Book”, caring for, improving and protecting your voice; Chicago Review Press“Many voice disorders originate from people  “pushing through an illness”  When you are sick, especially if there is any laryngitis associated with the illness, you should assume the vocal folds are swollen.”    

Not everyone is the same as far as vulnerability to vocal injury, and in fact genetics plays a part in how susceptible we are.  It’s prudent to know your own predisposition to this sort of inflammation and if you need to, take it easy when you’re sick and avoid a complicated recovery.   

Rest is the most important aspect of care for singers with a cold. 

Whereas most of the world forges ahead on the first day of a respiratory infection, Barbara Doscher suggests in The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice “many singers feel the need to “do something” about a cold.  The best thing to do, of course, is to stay in bed for a day”   By mobilizing your energy towards fighting the bug, you may shorten or lessen the severity of it. 

Increase your fluid intake.

Part of the reason a respiratory infection is so miserable is that our phlegm becomes thicker and doesn’t flow in its normal fashion, and therefore doesn’t cover those sensitive mucus membranes quite as well.  Remember that under normal circumstances our body produces a quart and a half of mucus a day (!) 

Experiment with drinking a glass of water each hour.  You’ll be peeing a lot, but your mucus membranes will be happier. 

Use hot teas and soups to draw circulation into the throat and as a secondary benefit  the warmth will stimulate the sinuses to drain.

Avoid throat sprays that have any sort of analgesic in them.  They may mask your symptoms, and you might think it’s OK to sing when it’s not.

Gargling with warm salt water can soothe the throat and kill bacteria in the pharynx. 

A word of caution about inhaling steam off the stove.  DON’T    Your vocal folds can be badly burned by this practice. 

An ideal way to inhale steam is  in the shower or bath. 


Try this:

When returning to singing following an upper respiratory illness follow these strategies for getting your voice back in shape.

Make sure you are super hydrated before you start. Drink two large glasses of water an hour in advance of starting to sing.

Start with singing in very small increments in the middle of your range, and only if the voice is feeling good. 

Check and make sure that you’re using all of your best awareness for singing well,  such as good alignment and good support. 


Have a very fine and healthy week,





Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs