I’m writing this from home today as I am not feeling very well. I have a cold, but one that doesn’t seem to have lingered around my nose and sinuses as they often do, but one which seems to have skipped straight to my throat and lungs, leaving me with a high temperature whilst trying to fight it off.
It strikes me that I am probably not the only person to be dealing with this at the moment, as colds and coughs are very prevalent in late winter and early spring.
So, how do I deal with a cold, and particularly the kind of cough that steals your voice? I’ve had a LOT of practice over the years. I often claim that I could stub my toe and get a cough, and it’s true. Eventually, everything settles to my lungs and I feel dreadful, and my voice suffers hugely as well.
First up, I think it is really important to understand what is happening when you cough all the time. When you talk or sing, your vocal folds move gently in different configurations to allow the sound to be formed and projected in the way that you want. When you cough (in this case to expel foreign matter such as phlegm from your throat and lungs), your folds are suddenly forced wide open and air expels from your lungs at over 100mph. If you do this often (personally, I tend to have coughing spasms, wherein I cough repeatedly for up to three or four minutes with increasing strength, until I choke or sometimes gag) then the delicate muscles of your vocal folds are being forced, time and time again, into an uncomfortably open position, and shaken by the force of air moving past them. They dry out very quickly, which then makes them more unwilling to move. Another cough after this point will inevitably bruise the folds, making them more tender and even more unable to move. You will end up with a croaky, airy voice, because your folds can’t move in the normal manner, and the only thing you can do is allow them to rest. Here is my personal list of things to do:
- Try to limit your coughing. Medicate regularly and effectively. Learn what cough medicine works for you. For me, it is non-branded Pholcodeine Linctus. It’s available over the counter and is the only thing that breaks that dry, tizzicky cough that causes so much damage.
- Sooth your throat. Pastilles and lozenges are good, and will make your throat moister, limiting the damage of the air inherent in coughing. I recommend Vocalzone pastilles. They taste like a mixture of earwax and liquorice, but do the job very effectively. I can only force myself to use them in extreme conditions. A nice Strepsil works more palatably for me.
- Eat chocolate. Really – it’s very good for stopping coughing. It has been medically proven and everything! It has the pleasant side effect of BEING CHOCOLATE as well. What’s not to like?
- Drink pineapple juice. There isn’t much in the way of medical science to support it (unlike the chocolate thing above), but it’s a long held belief by many singers that it soothes the throat, helps to disperse mucous, and helps with restoring a voice to health. I’ve personally found it very helpful, but can’t prove it! Don’t drink too much, though – there’s an enzyme in it which attacks the collagen in your cheeks and tongue and will hurt if you drink a whole carton in one go!
- Don’t whisper. You use more air, and dry out your folds really effectively. Don’t do it.
- Keep your voice moving. If you keep absolutely silent when you have a cold, the likelihood is that phlegm will settle on your folds and not be shaken free. This will actually make your voice worse, as those little muscles are now trying to work whilst bruised from coughing and with a horrible lump of dried up gunk layered over them. Yuk! Keep talking gently and trying occasional very quiet “siren” exercises to keep them clear and functioning.
- Neti Pot! I always forget to recommend this one, but if you are bunged up, and particularly at that stage of a cold I like to call, “My Head is a Glue Factory”, try a Neti Pot. You fill them with lukewarm saline solution, tilt your head sideways and forwards and stick the nozzle into your nostril and pour the water in. Keep your throat closed and do it over a sink. The water will swoosh around your sinuses, feel very strange, but clear out all of that gunk when it streams out of the other nostril. The first nose-blow after a Neti Pot treatment is one of the more joyful experiences of life. They aren’t that common in the UK, but you can buy them online. I love mine with a burning passion, and haven’t accidentally waterboarded myself yet!
- Drink water. Lots of water. Colds and coughs dry you out. Decongestants dry you out even more. Drink as much water as you can bear, it will moisturise all of the mucous membranes in your body, make you feel better, and enable your body to fight the infection more effectively. It will also make your skin look better!
So – have you got any cold/cough fighting tips? Do chip in! I’m going to have some more tea and hope that I’m well enough to lead choir tonight – although maybe from a distance so I don’t cough over anyone!.