What to Do When Sick


In medical jargon, the common cold is called an upper respiratory infection, or URI. Serious voice users have the same risk as anyone else for picking up these annoying bugs. But for us, the consequences are more severe, especially if the infection gets into the throat.

How exactly does a cold hurt your voice? Actually, it’s the body’s reaction to the cold virus that causes problems. When the virus invades the lining of your nose, mouth, and throat, your body sends extra fluid, blood, and immune-system cells to the area. That’s why these areas get swollen. Swollen vocal folds vibrate more slowly, which makes vocal pitch shift lower. The folds many also vibrate unevenly, or “leak air” between slightly irregular edges, leading you to sound hoarse, rough, or raspy. Other vocal symptoms of a URI can include a smaller pitch range, especially the loss of high notes (bulkier cords don’t stretch as far) and less control over loudness (that all-or-nothing honk).

Extra congestion in the nose or sinuses can block resonance, making your voice sound dull. Chest congestion or overall fatigue can hurt your breath support. Repeated coughing can irritate otherwise healthy vocal folds. Under any of these conditions, pushing or tensing to try to sound “normal” will give you more trouble in the long run. Instead, a few days of relative silence – plus sleep, fluids, and steam – will help your voice to recover quickly and help you to avoid compromising your vocal technique.

Following is some general information, advice, and recommendations on colds and flu.

  • To keep from getting colds, wash your hands often, and use antimicrobial cleaning sprays on common surfaces and objects.
  • At the first sign of a cold, take 500 mg of vitamin C daily; also helpful are zinc nasal spray or swabs, and chicken soup. As symptoms develop or linger, continue the above, plus a glass of orange juice every day, hot tea, and plenty of other fluids. Take a hot shower every morning to loosen phlegm. Twice per day, use warm water and a bit of salt to gargle (for sore throat) or rinse your nasal passages.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier during the night. Eat light meals for the first few days you are ill. Use over the counter remedies for symptomatic relief. Resume a normal diet after a few days.
  • If all symptoms are above the neck, it is safe to continue your regular fitness routines. If symptoms involve your chest, take a few days off from vigorous exercise.
  • Visit a doctor if you have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fever of 102 degrees (F) or higher.

Paying attention to your health when you’re feeling well – with good habits of nutrition, exercise, rest, and social support – is the deeper process recommended throughout this manual, and it will pay off in fewer, lighter colds and flu.

The benefits of Tea

Tea has earned a reputation as something to drink when you have a cold. Green tea has gotten a lot of praise recently for antioxidant properties. Regular (black) tea turns out to have just as many helpful ingredients, and it is somewhat better at relieving chest congestion.

Any hot beverage, including plain hot water, can help keep you hydrated, thin out secretions (phlegm), increase circulation in the throat, and send steamy vapors into the airway. Neither lemon nor honey has been proven to have any particular benefits for the common cold, but they are not harmful either. Use them to taste.