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(As published in the Region 10's "Tune In With 10" Summer 2004, Volume 19, Number 1)
s singers who have other lives, jobs and responsibilities, it's quite a challenge to take care of the vocal mechanism. Since most of us don't earn a living with our voices, our voices don't always get top priority. Finding time to care for our own voice usually happens when we are in crisis -- allergy season, a singing performance or a contest. Surprise! When we are stressed it shows in our voice and we end up with a sore throat or laryngitis or other symptoms. We've all heard people on stage during competitions who struggle with vocal trouble. Why is it that our contest and allergy seasons so often coincide?

Our body is our instrument, so whatever we do to the body affects the voice. Spring is one of the most potent seasons for allergy sufferers. The pollen count is high for obvious reasons and the bold count is often equally high. Most of us try to be responsible singers and take good care of our voices, but when confronted with vocal challenges, all singer need to exercise caution when attempting to self-medicate. It's incumbent upon each singer to understand over-the-counter medications and their impact on the vocal mechanism. We are the stewards of our bodies and our voices, and it's up to us to investigate and learn what different medicines do to the voice.

Common Sense should always be a component of any attempt to self-medicate. The antihistamine that dries up nasal congestion also dries the mucous membrane that surrounds and protects the vocal bands. When the vocal bands are dry and singing continues, the effect is like rubbing two sticks together. The friction produces heat and the heat inflames the area, making it sore. A decongestant, a nasal lavage, or other products that adds moisture to the vocal system is often a better remedy for a singer.

A noted laryngologist in Dallas recommends (all available without prescription):

  1. ENTSOL spray (Kenwood Therapeutics, A Division of Bradley Pharmaceuticals Inc., Faairfield, NH 07004-2402) -- the cost is approximately $15-$16. ENTSOL puts a saline spray into the sinuses, which both moisturizes and helps clear the sinuses out;
  2. PRETZ Spray (Parnell Pharmaceuticals, Larkspur, CA 94939) for nasal passages; and
  3. MOUTH KOTE Oral Moisturizer (Parnell Pharmaceuticals)

Do as your doctor recommends but be sure you give the doctor all the information he/she needs to treat you. Let him/her know you value your singing voice and want to take precautions to protect it.

For those who suffer from chronic drainage that trickles down the back of the throat and is a constant irritant, try this recipe for Singer's Tea. It is an herbal drink and is not for the faint of heart or palate! It is quite spicy but it does the job of cutting mucous. Any of the ingredients can be adjusted to taste, but the quickest way to cut the spicy quality is by adding apple juice or water. Many vocal students attest to the effectiveness of this tea. While the tea may/may not help your symptoms, it will NOT hurt your vocal cords.



Singer's Tea (serve warm. Sipping is recommended)

1 fresh ginger root
1 can apple juice concentrate (6 oz)
1 fresh lemon
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/3 cup honey

Chop ginger root in 1/4 inch slice rounds (about 8 to 10 inches of the root) and boil (simmer) 45 minutes. Add cayenne, honey, lemon and apple juice concentrate to taste.

The tea warms and soothes the throat, cuts mucous and stimulates circulation. Singer's Tea is great to drink during a recording session.


Water is the singer's friend and best ally -- drink it in good vocal health!

Our mothers taught us to eat properly, get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. These are all things that we should do to guarantee the best possible response from our instrument at contest or on rehearsal night. Drinking water is an absolute "must" for a healthy voice. Singing without proper hydration is like driving a car without oil. Although we all know about drinking water, it's important enough to keep repeating. A singer should drink enough water so that the back of the throat looks as shiny as the inside of a cheek. If you can see shiny vocal chords when looking into a mirror, you are truly hydrated. On average, we should all drink at least 8 glasses a day, but various situations can adjust those requirements. Caffeine users must be prepared to add more water to the daily regimen. For every cup of coffee consumed, add three cups of water to make up for the drying effects of the coffee and caffeine.



Water consumed during the twenty-four hours prior to singing is important. Drinking water while singing, either rehearsing or performing, might have an opposite effect than what's desired. Drinking while rehearsing or performing may actually be drying to the mechanism. The water can wash away the protective coating on the vocal cords. Certainly we need to drink if we're thirsty, but we don't need to try to consume a week's worth of water when we're singing!

To keep from feeling dry during rehearsal or just prior to performing, try nibbling on apple. That's right! Peel and dice and apple and keep it with you to nibble just before singing or if you are feeling dry during rehearsal. The mastication of the apple helps the body naturally produce saliva; the pH balance of the apple is similar to the protective coating of the vocal cords. Of course, nothing you swallow crosses the vocal cords; you would choke if that were to happen. It's the area surrounding the vocal cords that often has phlegm clinging to it. Peel an apple to eliminate the possibility of scratching the throat with unchewed peel. No matter how well you chew an apple, it still goes down with some corners, cleaning the vocal passage as it goes.

In addition to drinking lots of water, introduce water into your system any other way you can. A shower is better for a singer than a bath, because of the steam you inhale. The shower is also a perfect place to warm up in the morning. Humidifiers can be an equally effective way to introduce moisture into your system. If you are away from home and in a hotel room during a performance or competition simply run hot water in the bathroom and leave the door open. Even a wet towel hung by your head as you sleep can add moisture to your system. Hydrate, moisture and generally stay wet!
Copyright 2004 Darlene Rogers Vocal Instruction
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