Laryngitis, the swelling of the vocal cords, has many causes: infection in the vocal tract, injury to the voice box, singing badly, screaming, or you may find yourself with a hoarse voice after a cold. And there are other, more rare and very serious reasons for long bouts of laryngitis – cancer is one of them.
But often I find that singers are their own worst enemies when it comes to the more common reasons for and recovery from this problem. Most of us know that eating and drinking alcohol late at night can create acid reflux (stomach acid moves up into the throat and irritates the vocal cords). The numerous ads on TV have drilled that information into our brains.
And yet, we singers continue to do it. (I've done it myself - often!)
It is part of the performer’s world: the show ends, you’re hungry and you want to eat and celebrate. It’s hard to avoid that late-night scoffing.
So here’s a novel thought- eat lightly and celebrate with little or no booze and lots of water. And when you are eating late, if you care about your voice, don’t talk loudly - especially if you have been shouting during your show.
Don’t force your voice when it is tired.
I laugh and shake my head when a singer comes to me for a lesson with a hoarse voice and tells me that he/she was up late – yes, eating and drinking and talking.
HELP! I CAN'T SING!
The other main reason for laryngitis is as a result of a cold. You’ve had a bad cold; it seems to be getting better, and then – yup, you can’t talk or your voice is at best hoarse and gravelly. You try to sing and your poor swollen vocal cords just will not phonate.
What they need is “rest.” At this point, your best action is to take no vocal action. Don’t talk.
(Note that contrary to what is said in this video, singers should not whisper. It is very hard on the vocal cords.)
Here’s how healthy vocal cords look. Scroll down the page a little bit to watch a fascinating video of those cords while the woman sings.
The first time I saw my vocal cords in a throat doctor’s office (a small camera attached to a tube was put into one nostril and down my throat), I was stunned by how organic they looked as I sang a few notes. Viewing those small bits of vibrating flesh dramatically changed how I approached my singing in the future. I had much more respect for my compact voice box and the marvels it can deliver through song.
LOOK HERE (sore throat remedies) FOR A VALUABLE APPROACH TO PERSISTENT LARYNGITIS!
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO WHILE YOU REST YOUR VOICE?
Laryngitis is hard on a singer’s psyche. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine ever singing again when you have a bad bout of it. Aside from rest and watching funny videos (don't laugh out loud!), I also suggest that singers visualize their vocal cords as healthy and beautiful.
There is some evidence that visualization has power. We can help our bodies to heal. So, having seen those healthy vocal cords in the video above, next time you are sick, visualize your own cords in that healthy state. Imagine them vibrating perfectly – sounding wonderful.
Relax into that vision.
Then KNOW that you are gradually, if not rapidly improving and leave the rest to time.
Some years ago, I had a two-week stretch when I could not sing. That’s a long time to have a hoarse voice. You should see a doctor if it lasts that long. I did see a doctor and was told to totally rest my voice in spite of the fact that I had several big performances coming up.
I spent a lot of time visualizing the concert; felt myself singing the songs; saw the audience enjoying the performance; heard my voice in great shape. I basically learned the show and experienced the show - in my mind.
I sang very little until opening night, then walked onstage with that powerful vision in mind. The show went well. My voice worked well. It was a great lesson for me about the powers of visualization.
One of those unusual cough remedies...
There is some good research that points to chocolate, or at least to an ingredient in chocolate (theobromine) as a way to stop a persistent cough. Try drinking a strong cup of good quality hot chocolate next time you have a lingering cough.
I wish you great singing!
Barbara Lewis specializes in working with professional singers & actors, and older singers who are beginning to live their dream. To consult with her about your voice or specific vocal problem, send an e-mail here.
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