This is the second in a two-part series about vocal health. In part one we looked at some basic ways to prevent vocal problems. In this section we’ll look at what to do once you think you’ve hurt your voice.
What do you do if you think you’ve hurt your voice? There are different levels of damage that can be done to the vocal cords. Most of the time, the kind of damage we do might be very temporary. For example: we’ve stayed up very late talking into the night. Or, we over sang this week because we were getting ready for a big production and attended five rehearsals—about four more than we’re used to. We attended a wedding and spent four hours at a reception trying to yell over the band. All of these types of activities can produce the same general results. Sore and swollen cords. When you wake up in the morning, your normally soprano or tenor voice sounds much like a froggy bass. If you ARE a bass you’re thrilled that you can FINALLY hit that low ‘C’!
This is a temporary, albeit troublesome, problem. There are some helpful things to do. The first thing your cords need is to REST. My guess is though—you can’t let them! It’s Sunday morning and you have to sing! So here’s what you’re going to do. The minute you realize you’ve strained your cords, start to do everything you know to do. Get as much sleep as you can. Drink a bunch of water. Turn on your vaporizer. Don’t talk. When you get up on the morning you HAVE to use your voice, take as hot of a shower as you can and keep the bathroom door closed and don’t use a n exhaust fan! Create a steam bath. Breath in deeply through you r nose. After you’re been breathing in this yummy moist air for about ten minutes. Start to S-L-O-W-L-Y go through a very gently warm-up consisting mostly of gentle humming. Don’t push. Don’t look to get to the ends of your range, in fact avoid the ends of your range as much as possible when your cords are hurting. Sing quietly once you do start to practice.
Keep some ‘Throat Coat’ by Traditional Medicinals handy at all times. You can always find it at GNC but my grocery store carries it as well. Also, look for menthol-free throat lozenges-Hall’s ‘Fruit Breeze’ are one example. The menthol will dry out your cords-it helps clear your sinuses but is not good for your cords. The same is true for lemon. Lemon might give you an immediate lift of ‘shrinking ‘ the cords back closer to their normal size, but the cost is having them dried out—so use it sparingly—if at all. Honey is great because it soothes and coats the cords. When you use the Throat Coat, don’t be in a hurry to make it. Let it steep for as long as possible. I even make mine at night before I go to bed, wake up in the morning and re-heat it. Using boiling water and cover your cup to let it steep for a minimum of a half an hour to get the max benefits from the herbs. Make a double dose and bring it with you in your thermal coffee cup to sip on throughout the morning.
Once you start to rehearse with your team or choir, try the best you can to sing in a light, airy tone. This will help you go through the parts you need to without straining the cords as much. When you add air to your tone, yours cords don’t experience as much friction so its easier on them-of course you don’t sound as good but save that for the time you really need it. Sing as little as possible then go back to total rest for your cords.
If your problem is that you are actually sick, for example you really have a sore throat from a virus then the remedy would be very much the same if you have the need to sing immediately. In addition, gargle with Listerine 3-4 times a day for 30 seconds. Do this at the onset of ANY kind of sore throat and you may void it completely. I’ve had GREAT luck with this. Others recommend gargling with salt water, but I particularly find this more effective. See what works best for you.
At ANY rate, if your cords or your throat is sore and you can avoid singing or using your voice altogether, that is the best thing. Total vocal rest is the best as soon as possible. If you continue to sing when your cords are hurting or damaged in any way over time you may develop more serious vocal issues.
More Serious Damage
What do you do if you’ve truly damaged your cords? First of all, you need to determine how serious your damage is. This can be done with a visit to your Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. Some clues that you may need to see a doctor would be: constant hoarseness, constant phlegm, a gravelly sound in your speaking voice that doesn’t go away, pain in your throat when you talk or even swallow that doesn’t go away. Any of these symptoms can indicate something seriously wrong.
One of the singer’s worst nightmares used to be the dreaded nodes or polyps. Although these are still scary and need immediate attention, they are no longer the threat they once were. I am not a doctor, but my understanding is that a node is almost like a ‘callous’ that develops over a period of time when the cords have been ‘banged’ together too harshly over an extended period of time. Many popular singers have been treated for nodes and recovered nicely. However, usually there needs to be some re-training before the singer is allowed to sing again. Misuse and perhaps a simple lack of vocal knowledge and care many times are the contributing factors.
Not all polyps or nodes require surgery. If they are small enough, they can sometimes be treated with a more conservative approach. One of the most important things you can do is get proper vocal training, perhaps even speech therapy to see if that is where your true problem lies. In addition, TOTAL VOCAL REST is necessary. This means no talking, whispering, singing, coughing, sneezing, throat clearing, ANYTHING that makes a noise from your throat! But do not try to self treat if you have the above mentioned symptoms. Go to a doctor ASAP!
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your voice is a gift from God and needs to be cared for properly. Take the necessary steps to care for your voice in a way that will make it possible to use your voice for God’s glory for as long as possible! God Bless!
Sheri Gould is a graduate of the University of Ill. She has taught voice privately for 30 years. She has been a worship leader and music director in various local churches since 1986. A nationally recognized vocal coach and consultant, she writes for Worship Musician! Magazine and has taught at such conferences as, Christian Musician Summit, Seminars4Worship, International Worship Institute, Karitos Conference, Worship Institute Northeast, and many more.