When you work in a regular job, a cold or an ear infection or a sore throat can be inconvenient and tiring. It can stop you from sleeping well, causing you to feel exhausted and the congestion can make you feel rotten. After a few days of bed rest, hopefully, your symptoms have improved sufficiently enough to start getting back to normal duties and work. Sadly, this isn’t always the case when you need to sing as part of your work. A Singer needs to determine whether it is safe to sing under the given circumstances. If you sing too soon, it can prolong the recovery or even cause long-lasting damage. But what do you do if you have a performance, competition round or an audition?
I faced this exact circumstance recently, as I contracted a nasty ear infection, which I am still recovering from. At the peak of the illness, I had a sore throat, regular headaches, vomiting, dizziness, a constant shooting pain in my right ear and hearing loss. It was quite a shock to my system, as I don’t suffer from ear infections often (thank goodness!) and I wasn’t sure what the best methods for home treatment were. To add to the pressure, I felt like I was under a ticking time bomb to get better, because I had an audition coming up, which was important to me as it was for a dream opportunity. When my symptoms persisted, I visited a doctor who warned me not to sing as the pressure could perforate my ear drum. I couldn’t risk that outcome under any circumstances, as a perforated ear drum could lead to permanent hearing loss. It seemed that I wasn’t going to be able to ride my adrenaline wave and present myself for the audition, so I chose to focus on my recovery. To add salt to the wound, the recovery took longer than I had first imagined, and I had to cancel a further two auditions – making me quite anxious for future work employment. However, I couldn’t linger in a negative headspace for too long. The truth is, if I had sung, I wouldn’t have presented myself at my best. My performance may have been fuelled by anxious tension, giving the auditioning panel a false impression of my ability, and not giving myself the best chances of success. There will always be more auditions, my future health is more important, and a career is built out of more than one opportunity.
So today I want to draw a positive narrative from this experience and share some of the home remedies I personally swear by and reflect on the success of the new treatments I have tried. (Please note that this information is not to be taken as professional medical advice but is a personal reflection on my own experiences).
Under normal circumstances, Doctors often suggest that a patient takes a course of decongestants such as “Sudafed” to help improve the rate of recovery as they can help to clear mucus and relieve blocked noses. However, I have been advised by ENT’s and medical professionals that decongestants can have negative effects for singers as this medication can also dry out the helpful mucus that coats the vocal folds. Singing on dehydrated vocal folds can cause injury. They have also warned against using anaesthetic throat sprays because the numbing sensation can give you a false impression of your vocal health, (encouraging you to sing too soon) and they similarly dry out the throat. Prolonged singing and speaking in dehydrated circumstances can lead to long term problems such as vocal nodes.
I used a variety of techniques to try and break down the congestion whilst staying hydrated. I drank a lot of liquids, I tried to drink at least 500 ml each hour. During the day, I would steam (boiled water and Olbas oil) using a plastic steam inhaler and a 100% sea water nasal spray to help clear my sinuses. If my throat felt particularly uncomfortable, I would suck on a vocalzone throat pastille to help alleviate irritation. At night I slept with a room cool-mist humidifier or with my electric vaporiser which releases pleasant vapours including Menthol and Eucalyptus to aid easy breathing. I found that when I did this at night, I was able to sleep for much longer periods, I would not wake up with sensations of a dry mouth and the pressure inside my head was more tolerable.