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.
72 thoughts on “How To Treat A Cold As A Working Singer”
Wow, Charlotte, I can see how bad this can be for you, a singer with a beautiful voice! I’m glad that your are feeling better. Ear infections are so terrible, gladly I haven’t had one in a long time. Be well! ☺️🙏🏻🇬🇧
Thank you John, I was so miserable on Wednesday but I just prayed I’d be well enough by Friday but it wasn’t to be. I seem to have turned a corner today so I’m feeling more optimistic for this week ahead. You stay well 😊.
Glad to see yo smiling and feeling better.
My best to George.
I have to be honest GP for the first time in a long while I got very down last week and felt very sorry for myself, George excelled making home-made chicken noodle soup and suffered strong menthol in every room in the flat. I will pass on your good wishes.
All the best,
I cannot imagine singing with an ear infection. Wise of you to not try it. Thanks for the update.
John, the audition was so important to me I actually did think about going ahead when I woke up, but I just couldn’t hear myself and get the pitch right and presenting a bad audition would just be silly, I was steaming and taking ibuprofen all morning but when the doctor on an emergency appointment said with all the high notes I sing I could perforate my ear drum I had to pull out, I’d been preparing every day for a week and was so excited about my material just the day before I felt really confident. Then I got a call back the following Tuesday and I still couldn’t sing, 😱 and at that point hadn’t been able to sing for five days. It wasn’t all dark though I caught up on lots of word learning, languages and my Alice project. Busy week ahead keep your fingers crossed for me.
Break a leg for sure.
Ear infections are horrible, and you got all the awful side affects. It’s really sad the the most effective medications cause other problems. Out here in the desert its so dry most people have constant sinus issues and ear infections are common. I keep three warm mist humidifiers running 24 hours a day this time of year.
Here’s some mucus humor for you. Years ago, back in 1977, I worked for an old guy who told me that when suffered from colds and ear infections when he was a kid, his mom would place a fresh cow patty with Vic’s vapor rub on his chest, and that cleared everything up. He said he also had to wear camphor bags in the winter to ward off colds. I told him I believed the Vic’s and the camphor bags, but I thought the cow patty was a bunch of crap. He swore it was all true. Who knows. I doubt you have ready access to cows in London, but Vic’s and camphor should be available.
It’s so sad to miss an important audition, but you have to take care of yourself, and move forward.
Hahaha, seriously if someone has suggested it as a cure on Thursday morning I’d have probably considered it. I am usually blessed with good health and a good constitution so I have a lot to be grateful for, it was a matter of very poor timing, my Mum is a fatalist so its behind me now. Thank you for your kind message Timothy.
I hope your good condtitution kicks in and stays kicking.
Surrounding you wilh the healing wings of Angels to guide you into pefect health! And seeing you as totally on the other side of this medical issue and on your way to the next fabulous opportunity (which I feel is right around the corner) xx
Bless you my friend Annette, I am looking forward to next week now things can only go up from last week.
Stay positive Charlotte, your young with plenty of opportunities to come I’m sure. You must look after your health especially your throat and ears, they are your instruments so need careful management. Although disappointing, you did the right thing. Now……. Upwards and onwards my friend🥰😘😘
Thank you Gill, I am now, our kitchen looks like a pharmacy, thank goodness I hadn’t heard of Timothy’s dung cure hehe.
Wise decision, my dear Charlotte, not jeopardizing future health even for an important audition. More of those will come along and better ones, I am sure! There’s a saying here that every obstacle happens for a purpose. Best remedy is rest and lots of liquids, you’re right. Once a doctor prescribed cortizone inhalations in case I would get a cold before a concert, telling me that many singers resort to it. I’m glad I never took it! Natural remedies are the best! Keep smiling! 💖😘
Thank you Marina, A blocked nose I can cope with but blocked ears! No. I know the every obstacle thought, I was saying to my Mum what could I have done to deserve such bad Karma this week and she told me to snap out of it and get on with things I could do to get some positive energy back so that’s what I did.
I was steaming three times each day but I upped it to once per hour and that seemed to work best.
Great advise from your mum and great that you took it!
Many hugs your way!
Well done ! and yes, it’s fine to use inhaler and diffuser. And you can do it all year round.
For throat, you also have the infusion of violet (the Calas did). You must have good herbalists in London who can tell you which plants and essential oils you can use for the ears, throat, vocal cords. And when you go out, you can put a few drops of your diffuser mix on a mask or a neckerchief that you put on your mouth and nose to protect against germs, dust and the cold. But these are just suggestions.
Me, on my fabric masks, I sometimes put lavender, or helichrysum.
Very proud of you! XX
Thank you for your suggestions Pascal I will follow them up. I continue to wear masks 😷 when in public spaces with lots of people just because of my job.
You are right. Anyone who uses their voice should always have a mask with them to protect themselves from dust, pollen, microbes, pollution etc. also from insects when cycling or jogging – All the best for you, always
Wow, I’m sorry you were so sick, but glad you are getting better. I’m sure it was difficult to miss those auditions, but in the long run, far better that you skipped them. Hope you have a good week and that other opportunities show up soon 🙂
Thanks Trent I am much better now. I would normally power through everything and carry on but this was fierce. I’m keeping busy.
SO sorry to read about your ear infection. Horrible things and such nightmare pressure for you when you need to get to auditions, to keep yourself out there, to have employment. All these things make it hard to be kind to yourself. With your talent and drive and determination I am certain you will be back out there soon with irons in fires. xxx
Thanks Shehanne, its not been a good time in our industry so I did feel I really missed a great opportunity. Something will turn up and if not performance its a good time to get on top of my languages and learn some new songs and arias.
So sorry for your missed opportunities, but I know you did the right thing to focus on your health. I hadn’t thought about the effects of a cold on professional singers – very interesting, informative.
Hang in there – someone will be lucky to have your audition!
Thanks Sheila, I was really hoping I’d get a call back a week later but never mind. I’ve got a busy week ahead that I’m excited about.
Never mind – their loss. Keep singing.
What a bummer, Charlotte. Glad your better. Lots of honey. And while it is not summer, avoid air conditions when they are turned on.
Thanks Don, I always have honey in my cupboard and travel kit manuka and a local honey 🍯 because I was told honey from your local area helps with local allergens. I don’t have air conditioning, I’m glad because we keep hearing energy prices are rising really steep here.
Manuka honey is so good internally and externally. And I have one tost with local honey and I believe it helps with my allergies.
I am sorry to hear this especially during the pandemic. Please take care of your elf and stay safe.
A couple of years being masked and not mixing very much may have dropped my natural resistance to other bugs, I don’t know, but I was feeling really fit and well the day before it hit. You stay safe too.
I hope you are recovering. That illness is definitely a test of your eternal optimism, and I can well understand you felt very low for a while. I find with things like Sudafed that it simply blocks all the gunk getting out of the system, and you’re dealing with the dried up muck for a week or two after the cold has gone. When I’m bad, I often return to the old-fashioned steam tent – ie – covering my head with a towel and inhaling over a bowl until the water no longer creates steam. It might serves as an adjunct to the continual steam inhaler .
I’ve definitely turned the corner this week and I’m glad because I have a busy week ahead. A good walk wrapped up seemed to clear the sinuses best. My bathroom steams up really good because it has no window.
I’m very sorry to hear of your health issues. Ear infections can be quite debilitating, and you are smart to take your time getting over it. Wishing you the best of health and many audition opportunities in your future. 🙂
Thank you John, keeping my fingers crossed that more performance opportunities open up soon. But I have made plans to keep busy.
So sorry to read you went through this hard and difficult period, Charlotte. Glad to see you’re feeling better. Wishing you all the best!
Thank you 😊. I’m excited for the week ahead and i hope that you have a lovely week too.
I’m sorry to hear about your being poorly Charlotte.
You did the best thing, it’s heartbreaking when you work so hard, and then can’t do auditions..
I think Honey and lemon are always good. I’m sure more opportunities will soon come your way..xxx
I made a warm lemon drink with honey on day 2 and it made me sick, George made me a home made chicken noodle soup which i managed to keep down but I had a real metallic taste. I’ve turned the corner now and I’ve got an exciting week ahead.
Best wishes always,
Thank you Jovina, I am feeling much more energised and fitter.
That would have been most unpleasant for anybody and, for you, a severe trial. you managed it wisely and I hope you will soon be back to your best
Thank you Derrick i appreciate your concern fo me. I’m feeling much better 🙂
Hi Charlotte, The minute I saw the title of the blog, I knew you were in for a rough time. I have a friend who sings and colds are just horrible for her. Ear infections are the worst. I got one from my son that burst my ear drum. After it healed, I got a glue ear – where the crap in the ear solidifies – and I had to have it flushed out in order to hear properly. So I have so much sympathy for you and am glad you are getting better. Do NOT worry about those auditions, my dear. You have such a grand voice, that other auditions will come. You will always have the opportunities for performance, I have no doubt. One other thing you can try for the throat – gargle with warm salt and baking soda in water.
I do try warm salt water gargle but I’ve not tried baking soda before. My throat wasn’t too bad it was mainly my ears and sinus, I think the antibiotics helped the sore throat immediately. I’ve not been ill at all for a couple of years so this was very frustrating right at the wrong moment. I’m excited for the week ahead, lots to get on with.
Your mum said you were poorly Charlotte and had missed some auditions .. try not to worry something much better is sure to be winging it’s way to you!! Everything happens for a reason xx
Thanks Jo, keep your fingers crossed for me.
Wonderful post, Charlotte, when most of us get a cold it is an inconvenience but as you say for people whose life/career depend on voice it is a much different matter. Fascinating to see it from your perspective, and that you are doing well and will be back to peak performance 🙂
Thank you Randall, I loved your recent blog post. Stay well.
I’m so sorry you missed the Friday Audition. We all face disappointments in Life and we’re sad, cry ..rightfully so, over something that happens outside of our control. Yet, those who are successful in Life choose not to stay down and wallow in sorrow. We dry our eyes after letting out our frustrations, which tends to help make us feel better. Then, we focus on bouncing back, better than ever. There is no Hope only for those who give up.
Thank you Eric, you are right and I’ve got a really busy week up ahead that I’m excited for. You stay optimistic too.
Glad you’re feeling better, Charlotte. I’m sure the next opportunity that comes along will be even better than you expect! Take extra good care of yourself.
Thank you Cate, lovely to hear from you xx I hope you’re right lets keep our fingers crossed. Take care too.
Wishing you a speedy recovery, Charlotte! I am sorry you had the ear infection (they are painful, as are sinus infections), but you made the right decision to rest, stay hydrated and do all the sensible things. I discovered Sudafed was not terribly useful for such things (a sinus infection in my case, which did affect an ear as well) , as it dehydrates the body and can make symptoms worse.
Thank you Lavinia, I’ve turned the corner now and feeling much better, reading all the lovely messages here made me feel much better too.
Ah! Sorry to hear that you are sick and missed auditions. Get well soon and sometimes bad things happened for better. I’m sure there will be other excited opportunities.
I noticed that somehow I unfollowed you. Must some glitch. I follow you back.
Wishing you fast recovery.
Oh Charlotte! You poor thing! To be so ill and suffer such disappointment must have been terrible for you. I do hope you are feeling better. My brother is just recovering from a bad ear and throat infection too – it must be doing the rounds! Well done George for being such a support to you xxx
George has been a rock, he’s so busy at the moment too and has lots of competitions on so I was really happy that he took good care of me. It’s given me time to plan and refocus for the next couple of months. Thanks for your concern Clare.
Must be very anxiety generating. Good thing you went to the Doc. Your voive (and hearing) are your life. Are you all right now?
Yes, thank you I’m better now. I very rarely go to the doctors so you’d hope that when I do ask to see someone that they’d realise I was serious. I’ve a busy week ahead so I’ll be having an early night soon and getting some sleep.
A busy week is always good. Work hard and get some rest.
I have dressed many singers, all contemporary….. rock, jazz, popular standards from earlier periods ( songs that Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett would cover.
They all were ultra concerned about their eyes, ears, throats, noses and lungs. Many a night I ran around with hot pots of tea and honey, before a performance.
Mostly it was stress related, but the voice IS the instrument and stress is of concern.
It’s not like you can just tune the piano, or get new strings for your guitar.
Of course an actual cold is worse. It sounds like you did all the right things. Steam is very soothing.
You don’t need to rush things. You are young. As you said “a career is built out of more than one opportunity.”
I got your reply in my comments on Art Gowns. I’ve been uber busy sewing the new Art Gown.
I’ll drop some hugs by later!
TAKE CARE, as you are!
I feel that the last two years have put a lot more pressure on artists, but you know me, ever the optimist. I’ve a busy week coming up and plans for my time to learn some new roles and songs that I’ve wanted to get stuck into.
Oh Charlotte, this sounds a bit of a nightmare, bravely borne. Thanks for the helpful tips. I hope some great opportunities and auditions are coming over the horizon at this moment.
Charlotte, I’m happy that you are beyond your illness. I had an ear infection once and it triggered Vertigo during a class at school where I taught. Fortunately, a colleague had it chronically and was able to help me through until I got home. It was like the world was coming out from under your feet and you have no control. It took a couple of days before the anti-biotics cured the infection. In your case not forcing the auditions shows that discretion is the better part of valor.
Singing under this situation is tough, although I’m a bad bathroom singer. But can feel what you had suffered.
God bless you 🌷
Thank you Deepak, I’m fully recovered now.