Protect Your Pipes With This Guide to Singing With a Cold

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You have a performance, recording date, or big audition and find yourself with a cold or other ailment affecting your voice. Your mind begins to race with concerns: Oh no, they’re going to think I really sound like this. Will I hurt my voice? Is there anything I can do?

Yes, there is—here’s everything to know about singing with a sore throat.


How to sing with a cold

Vocal training

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It’s very important in these instances to know your voice well enough that you have a baseline for what’s normal. If your symptoms are severe or impeding your voice in any way, don’t sing. If you have a slight cough and postnasal drip, and any soreness is up behind the soft palate, try these tips: 

Stay hydrated. Water is the panacea for getting rid of mucus in the throat while singing, since it thins the mucus and flushes out toxins. “The standard recommendation for a daily water requirement is usually 32 ounces,” explains voice specialist Connie de Veer. “However, for professional voice users, athletes, and dancers, the preferred recommendation is about twice that. Vocal use is drying, and without adequate and regular hydration, the vocal mechanism suffers.”

Inhale steam. This practice can be soothing and loosen phlegm. “Another option for hydrating your voice is to use a humidifier, which releases miniscule water droplets that bypass the epiglottis barrier,” de Veer says. “Try using a hot-water vaporizer overnight with room humidity of 30%–50%.”

Try herbs and medicine. Echinacea, goldenseal, osha root, slippery elm, wild cherry bark, collinsonia, licorice root, and astragalus root help reduce mucous membrane inflammation and soothe sore throats. Over-the-counter cold medicine and doctor-prescribed corticosteroids can help soothe your throat short-term, but be wary of overuse, which can negatively affect your long-term vocal health.

Warm up slowly and easily. Vocal warmups and cooldowns are very important, so take it slowly and allow extra time due to your condition—more than the 15–20 minutes usually allotted for warmups before a performance. Work with your vocal coach to get exercises designed specifically for warming up with a cold.

How to sing with a sore throat

Sick singer

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If your voice feels sluggish or hoarse, it hurts when you sing or speak, or you suddenly find that your range is limited, proceed with caution. This is often the case when the soreness is low in the throat, which indicates the cords are swollen and irritated more than just a little. A hoarse voice and sore throat without a cold could be due to overuse or strain, vocal growths, heartburn, vocal cord hemorrhage, or laryngitis. For these issues, it’s best to reduce harmful behaviors, rest your voice, and consult a doctor.

Check for acid reflux. If your voice is acting as if you have a cold—sluggish, hoarse, raspy—yet you have no other cold symptoms, you may have a mild case of acid reflux. This is when stomach acid comes up the esophagus and irritates the vocal cords. Potential causes are going to bed soon after eating, stress, and certain substances (such as spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine). Usually the condition is temporary and can be remedied with slight lifestyle changes. An ENT can identify the problem.

Take care of allergies. Allergies are also a problem for some singers. Unfortunately, the typical allergy medicine can dry out your vocal cords, which is not conducive to good singing. If possible, find the cause of your allergy and eliminate it rather than relying on medication. 

Consider hormonal changes. People who menstruate should be aware that their monthly cycle may impact their voice. According to a literature review published in the Journal of Voice, “Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle have a significant impact on the vocal folds and voice.” More specifically, a study published in the National Library of Medicine found that female performers have a higher minimum pitch between the first and 14th days of a 28-day cycle and lower voice intensity between the 15th and 21st days. You may want to consider your cycle when scheduling recording sessions and performances. 

Rest. If you find yourself with laryngitis, cancel. There’s always another show, and often you can reschedule an audition. Nothing is worth damaging your voice. Besides, you’ll sound abysmal anyway, so let it go. If you’re in rehearsal for a show, let the powers that be know you’re under the weather and mark the rehearsal.

See a doctor. Consult an ear, nose, and throat doctor whose practice is devoted in large part to singers. Get referrals from other singers and get a feel for the doctor’s experience before making an appointment. There can be a huge difference between an ENT who deals primarily with singers and one who sees a singer only once in a while. You want the best. Unfortunately, sometimes the best is very expensive and may not take your insurance, but it’s worth the investment. You only have one voice.

Medical advice disclaimer: Content in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.