Even though the holiday season can be fun and joyful, it is also a time when colds and flues seem more prevalent. A common query I get at this time of year is whether or not you should sing when you’re ill.
In general the answer would be no, but depending upon which areas of your body are effected, it may be possible to sing if you prefer not to cancel an important performance.
Hoarseness or laryngitis is an inflammation and swelling of the vocal folds, which inhibits them from properly stretching and closing. With this loss of elasticity, they are unable to properly vibrate and produce the desired sounds.
1. Laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx – voice box) can be the result of a respiratory infection such as bronchitis; in which case you should seek appropriate medical attention and remedies like antibiotics, vitamins and possibly B12 shots, etc.
2. If the hoarseness is the result of vocal strain from singing incorrectly, then the remedy is proper warm-ups to rehabilitate your vocal muscles. Warm-ups done correctly use gentle vibration to increase circulation in the vocal folds and reduce inflammation. Vocal warm-ups will assist recovery, but to avoid continual recurrences, seek the help of a good voice teacher or work with one of my self-study courses to develop better technique.
To Sing or Not to Sing
Whether you can sing while ill depends on the location of the infection. If you have a respiratory infection which is in your larynx (voice box) or lungs, do not sing. However, sometimes the vocal recovery from a lower respiratory infection can take some time. Once the infection is gone, using specific vocal warm-up exercises can facilitate recovery.
If you have an infection of your upper throat or sinuses, you may still be able to sing if you prefer that to canceling a performance. Though a sinus infection can make the back wall of your throat (pharynx) painful when swallowing or singing, it will not affect your voice as long as the infection is not also in your larynx.
With sinus congestion that often accompanies colds or flues, your voice will sound more nasal than usual so don’t try to achieve your normal vocal sound. Doing so may result in weird manipulations of the vocal muscles and irritate your vocal folds. Also, don’t sing full-out or belt and use more microphone amplification to reduce the demand on your voice for volume.
I’m wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season.
on December 1, 2014 at 9:57 PM said:Generally helpful advice, Jeannie. But there is some medical misinformation. First, when laryngitis is due to a bronchial infection, it isn’t always bacterial--in fact, most respiratory infections are viral in nature. Antibiotics are harmful in that case: they have NO effect on viruses and can even contribute to either sensitizing one to the point of becoming allergic to that particular antibiotic or developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which is one reason MRSA and c. difficile became so prevalent). In the absence of evidence of bacteria (such as opaque and colored phlegm or mucus and fever, or a history of developing secondary bacterial sinus or lung infections after a cold or flu) they should not be prescribed! B12 shots can be a placebo--at best, they temporarily increase stamina and energy but only if you’re B12 deficient (as many vegetarians and most vegans are). The shot that DOES help laryngitis is dexamethasone (Medrol), a steroid (but often a 5-day “dosepack” of tapering pill quantities works better and lasts longer). But see an M.D. or D.O. (especially an ENT specialist who treats singers or who is a singer). When in doubt, laryngoscopy can reveal the cause of laryngitis--either vocal fold swelling (edema) or excess thick mucus (the color and opacity of which can indicate bacterial vs. viral infection). And in my experience, sinus or nasal congestion makes one’s voice DE-NASAL (e.g., “I have a code id by doze”) rather than “nasal.” Nasality is a strident buzz when one’s nasal passages vibrate disproportionately compared to other resonating chambers. Congestion blocks the nose, and the air that would otherwise resonate can’t due to all that thickened mucus and swollen turbinates. Hence DE-nasality.
on December 2, 2014 at 9:41 PM said:This blog came just in time..I have had major laryngitis due to a respiratory infection now for two weeks. Haven't been singing at all! wishing you a very. Merry Christmas!
on December 3, 2014 at 11:03 AM said:Dear Sandy A. Thanks for all the feedback. My comment about antibiotics and B-12 were only meant to suggest that one should follow the doctor's advice. Nothing in my blog should be construed as medical advice. Thanks again. Happy Holidays.
on December 3, 2014 at 9:43 PM said:Most singers when singing with a sinus infection think they sound "nasal." This tends to be their concern - if they sing in this condition that they sound nasal. In this blog, I'm addressing the voiced concerns that have been presented to me by numerous singers throughout my 40 years of coaching tens of thousands of singers around the world. In this case I' is that TO THE SINGER they think they sound nasal when congested in this fashion. Sandy, thank you for educating those who read this blog that technically, sinus congestion does not create nasality.
on December 3, 2014 at 11:44 PM said:This is a great blog post! I'll be caroling this Holiday Season, good info to know. Thanx so much! <3
on December 4, 2014 at 9:09 AM said:Wow, this hits home! I had to cancel a gig due to sinus issues! Post Nasal Drip so bad I literally had no voice. My doctor said prob allergies and gave me Steroid nose spray, Zyrtec, and nettie pot. Still took few weeks before I had any range. Who knew that allergies could do this?! Funny thing. I did not feel congested or ill. Thankks for the info