It’s important to be careful when singing with a cough and cold. Understanding how to take care of your vocal cords when sick, as well as using remedies for singers with a cold, will help protect your voice during a bout of illness.
If you have a respiratory virus, should you continue to sing and how can your recover quicker? In this article, we share renowned industry tips and remedies for effective singing with a cold and cough.
Singing with a cough
Catching regular coughs and colds are an inevitable part of life. On average adults get two or three colds a year, while kids may suffer from up to five. Those who have diabetes, an autoimmune condition, asthma and smokers are likely to get worse colds and be at risk of complications. But otherwise, respiratory infections usually pass with no issues, within a few days to a week.
There is no real cure for the common cold and as there are many strains, you can catch numerous types in the space of one season if you’re run down. For singers, this is more than just an inconvenience, or uncomfortable. It can have a major impact on what you’re able to do as a performer. Being aware of how you can overcome, prevent or even briefly suppress your symptoms will allow you to treat them and kick that cold when it does arrive.
Can I sing with a cough?
It depends. If your throat isn’t sore and you limit your time, some gentle singing with a cough is fine. But, you should not go out and about with a new persistent cough, especially if you have a temperature. You should stay at home for at least seven days. You can do concerts – and possibly auditions – online instead.
A sore throat is a higher risk to your vocals than just a cold, although the two often go together (a cold may start with a sore throat). If your throat is sore it may be an infection, it may be from excess coughing, or it may be a vocal strain. And when your throat is sore, you’re more likely to hurt your voice. This is the time to sing your easiest numbers, with little belting and no super high or low notes.
Singing with a cold and sore throat
This is an issue that artists deal with every year, along with associated problems like laryngitis and voice loss. Yet it is possible to get your vocals moving even if you’re bunged up, have a raspy singing voice and having to blow your nose every five minutes.
It’s not necessarily the case that singing when sick is altogether bad. It depends what you’re suffering from, what kind of songs you’re singing, for how long and whether you’re taking proper care of your voice in the process. For most artists, there isn’t the option to stop singing altogether when that cold hits.
Remedies for singers with a cold
Fortunately, there is a range of tried and tested remedies to help you get through your cold as a singer. And some of them won’t cost you a penny. If you can get rid of a stuffy nose and get air through your sinuses you’ll sound much more like your usual self. You can also harness that husky or raspy tone as a new sound.
The best way to clear a stuffy nose naturally is to move around. If you lie or sit in one position you’ll get more bunged up. If you have the energy you might want to go for a jog or dance. On simply walk around for a while and get some fresh air before you sing.
Keep your head high so the fluid can drain down away from your nose and respiratory tract. If you need something more, you could try an over the counter decongestant from the pharmacy. Some of these are taken in pill form and others are squirted up your nostrils.
You can also try sinus massage and acupressure to drain and relieve your sinuses.
What do singers do when they have a cold?
Where possible, singers will rest their voice (and themselves) when they contract a cold. But if all else fails you may have to sing with a stuffy nose. If you can’t breathe through it, you have no option but to take your breaths through your mouth instead. You’ll find you have a more nasal tone. So work with it and choose songs to suit the sound. Here are some more steps you should take:
- Hydrate even more frequently with lukewarm water
- Cut out all dairy products
- Sleep as much as you can
- Wrap up warmly, especially over the throat and mouth in winter
- Take supplements like vitamin C and echinacea
- Cut back on sugar as this inhibits the immune system meaning you stay sick longer
What do singers use to soothe their throats?
Taking ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamon and elderflower are all good natural remedies for helping inflammations and infection. These can be added to your food, or taken as infusions (the steam will be beneficial too). Throat coat tea is very soothing, as are some over the counter and natural remedies.
Scratchy throat remedies for singers
Here are some recommended remedies for a scratchy throat.
- Take a teaspoon of honey several times a day – manuka is best as it has anti-bacterial properties
- Gargle with salt water several times a day
- Suck on a VocalZone pastille or drink a tea
- Taking cough syrup and cough sweets isn’t ideal, but it will keep a scratchy throat at bay long enough to get through a show
Performing with a cold
A cold will almost certainly affect your singing voice as it hits your nose, sinuses, ears, throat and possibly your lungs too. The most common effects are the lowering of your vocal register, the loss of higher notes and a huskier, perhaps even claggy tone caused by a build-up of mucus in your upper respiratory tract. Your vocal cords become dry and, if you’re coughing too, very tired. This puts you at risk of vocal strain and damage if you’re not careful.
If you have worked to get a large vocal range already, the loss of a few notes will have less of an impact.
Singing with a cold – am I too sick to sing?
Only you can tell if you’re too sick to sing. But telltale signs you should stop are:
- A temperature
- Voice loss or strain
Be aware, it’s not just about you and your health. If you go out singing with a cold, you could spread it to others. So you must also consider where you’re singing when deciding if you’re too sick to perform in public. Never go to a gig in a hospital, nursing/care home or hospice if you have symptoms.
If you’re able to keep singing (in public or private), choose a song that’s gentle – like a crooner, easy listening number, or non-taxing pop song. Avoid anything even vaguely out of your natural range, very fast, or big ballads. Songs by artists like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Ella Fitzgerald, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, Lilly Allen and Jain are worth considering.
How to get rid of mucus in throat for singing
When you have a cold a great way to clear mucus and get everything flowing in your respiratory system, is by inhaling steam. You can buy a special device, or do it the old fashioned way: hang a tea towel over your head and lean over (not into) a bowl of hot water.
Another remedy that may be worth trying is Mucinex or guaifenesin. This medication helps loosen the phlegm in your airways and repress a cough. Ask your pharmacist for advice on taking this as it will not be suitable for everyone.
If you’re trying to clear mucus do steer clear of milk at all costs too.
Singing after a cold
A cold may last a few days or a couple of weeks – and coughs can drag on even longer if you’re unlucky. Be patient, look after yourself and you’ll soon be back to full strength.
And looking after your voice doesn’t stop when your cold, cough or sinus infection is all cleared up. Protecting your vocals as a singer goes much further and is an ongoing priority. We now know that gut health plays a big part in immunity and overall wellbeing. So foods that are high in probiotics and probiotics like kimchi, kefir and leafy greens are worth incorporating into your diet.
These are our tips for singing with a cold and cough, but prevention is better than cure. Start now with these steps:
- Consider getting an annual flu jab. It won’t stop you getting a common cold, but will greatly lessen your chance of contracting a bout of flu. Flu is much worse than a cold and will definitely stop you getting on stage for a period if you catch it.
- Make it a part of your lifestyle to take regular exercise.
- Eat lots of fruit, vegetables, nut, seeds and foods with high nutritional content.
- Drink plenty of water and herbal teas and if you need a little boost, take a vitamin and mineral supplement to see you through the winter season. Not only will this help guard against colds (and help you bounce back quickly when you do get them).
- Wash your hands frequently, this prevents the spread of germs.
If you push through your cold and do a lot of singing, it may well take longer to recover afterwards. So if you want a speedy return to normal, rest, sleep and eat and drink healthily. There are no real shortcuts. You can stave off symptoms for brief periods, but these are short term solutions. The healthier you are overall, the better your immune system will be. And the better your immune system is, the quicker you’ll get your voice back from a cold.
- Does coughing affect singing?
Unlike congestion, coughing doesn’t affect your vocal tone, but the dryness can cause your voice to crack. The urge to cough can override your desire to sing too. It’s a reflex, so tough to stop. It really depends on how bad your cough is.
- How do I stop coughing when I sing?
Even in the worst-case scenario, with some medication and lots of water, you should be able to manage a short performance though. There’s nothing worse than a tickle in your throat when you start singing. A cough can keep you awake at night and affect your speaking voice too.
- What helps your singing voice when sick?
If you do need to sing with a cold and sore throat, you must treat it gently with ample warm-ups and warm downs. Don’t be tempted to skip it to optimise rest time. If your throat is sore a warm-up and warm-down should be mandatory.
Have you got any tips for singing with a cough? Do you have any remedies for a cold that work for you? Tell us about them in the comments below.