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How to keep your voice healthy during cold and flu season

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HOW TO KEEP YOUR VOICE HEALTHY DURING COLD AND FLU SEASON!

I am often asked by my students "How can I keep from getting sick, or if I do catch a cold, how can I get my voice back to normal as soon as possible?"

During the winter months, good hand washing and sanitizing are even more important.  Germs are transmitted from the hands to the mucous membranes any time you touch your eyes or your nose.  Carry a portable hand sanitizer with you at all times and use it frequently throughout the day.  Sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm, rather than your hands, and encourage others to do likewise, to prevent the spread of germs.   

Anything that can affect your health, body, skin or mood can affect your singing. The most important element (other than good technique) is WATER. The vocal cords need to remain hydrated (wet) in order to function optimally. Most people do not drink enough plain water, and singers need to drink more water than the average person in order to maintain vocal health. The motto is "pee pale". That's right, the more clearly you tinkle, the happier your vocal cords are! 

Air conditioning and heating units take moisture out of the air, affecting the hydration of the cords. Inhaling steam or cool mist will help replace the lost water. 

You should also be aware that, because of the functioning of the epiglottis, nothing you drink actually touches the vocal cords, so the old "tea and honey" remedy, while it might feel nice, does not affect the vocal cords (although it may provide a soothing effect to the tissues of the throat).  The only way to affect the vocal cords is to inhale steam or mist onto them.

Steam or mist, if inhaled, will hydrate the cords and help minimize swelling. I encourage singers to invest in a portable facial steamer (found at any drug store) and inhale steam several times a day if you are dealing with swollen vocal cords. (Make sure you sanitize the unit daily).

I also recommend using a "NETI POT" to clear out sinus cavities.  The use of a neti pot requires mixing up a saline solution that will be poured through the nasal passages.  The neti pot used with a saline solution has been shown to be an effective treatment for hay fever,  sinusitis, and other nasal conditions.  Nasal irrigation is used by many professional singers to remedy sinus dripping.

Humidity, steam, mist, drinking water, and warmth are good for the vocal cords; smoke, pollen, dry air, air conditioning and heating, caffeine, alcohol and drugs are dehydrating and therefore BAD for them!

 Some singers find that dairy products like milk or cheese cause thick mucus, so these products should be avoided on performance days. Allergies are also mucus producing, but you should avoid most antihistamines because they are too drying. If you must take them, counter the dehydrating effects with plenty of water and steam. Breathing through a warm wet towel will do in an emergency, as will inhaling steam from boiling water, or the local gym's steam room. 

Acid reflux is a problem many people do not even know they have. It occurs when stomach acid regurgitates up onto your esophagus, touching your vocal cords and damaging the cords and surrounding tissue. You can address this common problem by avoiding late night eating and by sleeping with your head elevated. Check with your physician- there are new medications that may alleviate this issue for you.

If you are sick or vocally tired, you need rest.  Avoid talking or even whispering.  Whispering is not a healthful solution when your vocal cords are swollen.  Never talk loudly or sing when your vocal cords are swollen- you may be encouraging vocal nodules.  Instead, silence, rest, and steam will get you on the road to recovery.  Lip and tongue trills can be helpful once you are on the road to recovery.  Generally, instead of singing during this time, just listen to your old voice lessons.  In that way, you are training "aurally" instead of "orally".

HERE'S TO A HAPPY AND HEALTHY FALL AND WINTER!

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