Do you want to avoid the potential risks of vocal strain when performing? Whether you’ve caught a virus or have been over-singing, it’s important to protect your voice and get it back on track for gigs, even when you have a sore throat.
You’ve got a sore throat and are singing tonight. Unfortunately, this is an occupational hazard in the life of a singer. But there are ways around it. Through a mix of prevention, cure and careful choice of repertoire, you can become a resilient performer.
In this article, we’ll offer help and advice to achieve optimum vocal health. We’ll also help you to identify whether your sore throat is the result of overuse or infection.
Sore throat and singing tonight?
There are two main reasons your throat may be sore. Either you have a mild or severe vocal strain or a bacterial infection. Both have the effect of making your throat sore. If you feel well and are experiencing no other symptoms, such as tiredness, headache, feverishness, blocked nose, muscle aches or fatigue, then you’ve probably strained your voice.
There is no quick fix for a sore throat. Vocal and physical rest, care and the remedies listed in this article will speed up the healing though.
Sore throat after singing
Singing uses muscles. But if you use the wrong ones, or overuse the right ones, they get tired. Much like an athlete may suffer from physical aches and pains, so do singers. If you frequently get sore throats from singing, you may be performing songs out of your natural range, that stretch your voice too far. You may not be warming up and down enough. Or you may not have good enough breath control. You’ll know you have a sore throat from singing if:
- Your sore throat comes on after singing and goes away again after a period of not doing any singing.
- You have no other symptoms to indicate a viral or bacterial infection is present.
- Your throat gets worse the more you sing.
- Your throat hurts particularly after singing high or low notes.
- You lose your voice after singing.
Singing with a cold and singing with a strep throat
Your sore throat may well be accompanied (or followed) by a cough and a cold. In this case, it’s a bacterial or viral infection, rather than vocal strain. As long as you feel well enough, you can still sing with a sore throat. A sore throat from a viral or bacterial infection should last no longer than a few days to a week.
If you have a sore throat that persists, seek medical advice. If you have a strep throat (as opposed to a viral or bacterial infection), you’ll probably need a course of antibiotics. These can be prescribed by your doctor. A strep throat causes reddened tonsils with possible red spots on the roof of the mouth and white patches or pus on the tonsils.
If you have a new, persistent dry cough and/or temperature you should get a test for COVID-19 and stay indoors until you have a negative result returned.
Help and advice for singing with a sore throat
Having a sore throat is unpleasant, to say the least. As well as being painful, these viruses can affect your whole body, making you feel tired and run down. So how do performers cope when one hits?
Can you sing with a sore throat?
This is something every singer dreads, but also that every singer has to deal with. Your throat is sore and you have a gig the same night. Don’t worry, because this is actually a very common problem and there are ways around it, even if you’re hoarse and have a heavy cold. If you’re due to go to vocal coaching or choir practice, then it’s well worth cancelling if it’s not a critical event. But shows are a different matter.
If possible try and sing songs in your natural range, that don’t require tons of vocal energy and feel easy to sing. Avoid anything very high, or low and very fast numbers. Rest your voice and body, before and after the show.
Is it bad to sing with a sore throat?
It’s not as simple as whether or not it’s harmful to sing with a sore throat, It really depends how bad your throat is, whether your vocal cords are damaged (as opposed to just having a throat virus) and how well prepared you are. Singing with a sore throat can give you a higher chance of damaging your vocal cords. This is why you must learn how to sing properly.
Sore throat remedies – how to soothe a sore throat from singing
Tried and tested remedies to soothe and heal a sore throat will enable you to get back to full vocal strength quickly. And to relieve the discomfort you may be feeling when trying to get through a live show or pre-paid recording session. You may also want to grab an emergency remedy before you go on stage. Singers usually drink warm or room temperature water and herbal teas. For more information on what to eat and drink before singing (in sickness and in health), read our article on the best food and beverages for artists.
Here are some things you can try to get rid of a scratchy, painful throat in lieu of an over the counter cough medicine:
- Gargle with saltwater.
- Drink fresh lemon juice and honey in warm water.
- Take a painkiller. These may not be appropriate for younger singers, but Calpol is a great alternative and much more palatable than having to swallow pills. You can also any of the natural remedies we recommend as these have no side effects or age limit.
- Suck on liquorice.
Singers throat spray
Cough syrups are very soothing, but not great for your voice, due to their sugary, claggy consistency. Natural products are excellent. You may find an echinacea and sage spray helps soothe your throat. Many of our recommended remedies involve products you may have in the fridge or kitchen cupboards anyway. Food and drink play a big part in vocal and overall health, which is why we talk about nutrition a lot. Let’s take a look at some ingredients and meals that are brilliant for soothing and curing your sore throat.
Here are some great things to eat and drink for your cold and sore throat:
- Peppers. The capsicum in these veggies has anti-inflammatory properties to ease pain and fight infection (if your sore throat is from a bacterial infection).
- Hot sauce. If you can’t stomach a pepper, eat some hot sauce that’s made from them instead.
- Drink clove or green tea for the inflammation and chamomile tea for vocal lubrication.
- Turmeric, cumin and garlic. Cook up a curry rich in these ingredients to fight any bugs that may be in your system and increase your overall health.
- Miso soup. This is rich in probiotics to boost your immunity, which will, in turn, help your throat heal faster. It also has a clarifying effect on the voice.
- Dairy alternatives. Avoid all dairy products when you have a sore throat as they make your voice claggy.
- Bone broth – an old fashioned reliable remedy when sick or suffering from a sore throat. Boil up a batch of chicken soup for 8 to 12 hours. Add lots of veggies and raw apple cider vinegar to draw out the nutrients from the chicken bones (take out the bones before eating the soup).
Best throat lozenges for singers
Manuka honey is widely used in the world of medicine as a proven antibacterial agent. It’s an ideal emergency remedy before a gig and sometimes comes in lozenge form, as well as tea and in a pot. Buy a high-quality product from a health food store and take it to soothe and heal your sore throat. Make sure you don’t put it in hot or boiling water and this will almost completely remove its beneficial properties. You only need a small amount and it can be taken simply on a spoon. Vocalzone pastilles are also hugely popular in the music community – often used to soothe and clear the voice right before going on stage.
Vocal warm-ups for sore throat
Singers ensure they use a good vocal technique, as guided by a coach or singing teacher. Warming and warming down before and after performances is important. As is eating a nutrient-rich, healthy diet. Now is not the time to skip your warm-up. Be very gentle and focus on exercises that involve humming and breath control. This will stop you singing from the throat, and work on supporting the sound with the diaphragm instead.
Throat exercises for sore throat
If your throat is sore, keep your exercises gentle and brief. Just enough to prepare for your show. Now is not the time to explore extending your range, whistling and learning how to belt. Here’s a guide on how to warm up, ideal for exercising a sore throat before you show.
Throat health for singers
Prevention is, of course, better than cure. Sore throats are not completely avoidable, but we can take precautions especially during winter months, to avoid catching bugs. Here are some tips for maintaining vocal health:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if you come into contact with anyone who already has a sore throat or cold.
- Take echinacea to boost your immune system and ward off bugs.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients.
- Drink plenty of water to flush away toxins.
- Exercise to increase your overall health, which will impact your voice too.
- Keep your mouth, throat and head covered in very cold conditions – hats and scarves are your friends.
- Take ‘vocal naps’ – periods where you rest your voice completely.
- Warm-up and down before and after singing.
- Get plenty of sleep. Shut-eye also boosts your immunity and aids healing.
Don’t underestimate the value of taking care of yourself and your voice when singing with a sore throat. We’d all love a super cure that doesn’t involve stopping singing. But remember that a period of rest is often the best – and only way – to heal vocal strain. Once you’ve done your gig, take a break for as long as possible, while it heals.
Having a good vocal coach will keep your technique on track too. While infections will strike from time to time, a resilient, strong voice will bounce back relatively quickly – especially with some health-giving remedies – and lots of water.
- Can you get a sore throat from singing?
Poor technique can cause vocal strain and a sore throat. If you don’t have an infection and aren’t singing all day every day, then you’re probably doing it wrong. It’s time to examine how you’re using your body when singing. The best way to do this is to work with a vocal coach.
- How do you stop a sore throat from singing?
Really support your voice with the breath. Should you experience discomfort after singing certain songs, you may be reaching and straining. Don’t keep singing high notes if they hurt your throat, as you could damage it. Focus on very gradually increasing your range safely and slowly, with vocal exercises.
Does vocal rest help a sore throat?
- Yes. If you’ve woken up on the day of a show or audition, try and rest your voice until it’s time to start warming it up. You could take some paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin if your throat is sore from a virus – this also helps to bring down any temperature that may accompany it.
What do you do when you have a sore throat? Do you have any tried and tested remedies to help when singing with a sore throat? Share your tips in the comments below.