Your Vocal Health: Medicating a Sore Throat

It’s going to happen sometime. You are going to catch that cold or sore throat which affects your singing, and you have to know how to deal with it. Use this advice for when your throat feels scratchy:

  • Avoid most nose sprays. Nasal sprays that contain antihistamines or decongestants are habit forming and can cause symptoms to worsen when you stop. Use these types of sprays only in emergencies.

  • Drink plenty of water with your medications. Most over-the-counter medications dry you out. As long as you’re prepared for that side effect and compensate with extra fluids, you won’t be shocked. Read about the lowdown on three common cold medications:

    • Antihistamines: These medicines stop the flood when your nose starts running. The antihistamine dries out your upper respiratory tract secretions and probably makes you sleepy to boot. Use an antihistamine to stop the flooding in your nasal passages, but know that the dryness affects your singing. Keep up with your fluids to counteract the dryness, and choose the right dosage.

    • Cough medicine: Most cough medicines dry out your voice. Your best bet is to find dextromethorphan with guaifenesin. The guaifenesin is a mucolytic, which brings up the mucus and keeps it flowing. Take the cough medicine, but keep drinking fluids.

    • Decongestants: These medicines open up your nose but dry out your throat. When you feel that stuffy nose, you reach for your decongestant, which opens the nasal passages. Keep the fluids incoming, even with decongestants.

    Don’t experiment with any medications right before a performance or concert. Try out medications ahead of time to know how your body reacts.

  • Keep some nasal saline spray handy. As your body tries to wash out the germs (with a runny nose), you can use a nasal saline solution to help fight the infection when you’re away from your neti pot.

    Using the spray when you’re sick means you need to exercise good hygiene: Place the nozzle close enough to your nose to get in a good squirt, but not so close that the cold germs from your nose get on the nozzle. You don’t want to get those cold germs back the next time you use the spray.

    This technique may get a little spray on your face, but you’ll just feel like you dunked your face in a tiny ocean.

  • Steam it up with a humidifier. The winter heater may dry out your home, so keep the humidifier running, especially at night. Rinse it out daily so that you don’t end up growing a mold farm in the leftover water.

    The water condensation on the windows will dry, but feel free to turn off the humidifier if it looks like it’s raining on the inside of the house. You may prefer to use a cool-mist humidifier. If so, be sure to use distilled water as directed by the manufacturer and wash the machine regularly to keep it clean.

  • Thin out your mucus. If you suffer from postnasal drip, you probably have mucus that’s too thick. You can try over-the-counter medications with guaifenesin (active ingredient in Mucinex and some cough medicines) to help move the mucus. Use the nasal saline solution or other medications from your doctor to help thin the mucus without drying out your throat.

  • Use acetaminophen (active ingredient in Tylenol) instead of ibuprofen (active ingredient in Advil). Acetaminophen is the only pain medication that singers can take and still safely sing. Ibuprofen and aspirin dilate blood vessels and make you more susceptible to bursting a blood vessel.

    Keep in mind that your vocal folds are opening and closing 440 times per second if you’re singing the A just above Middle C. The movement is even faster the higher you go in pitch. Research the pain medications you currently take and talk to your doctor about your options.

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