**N.B.: Please understand that your voice teacher can almost always tell the difference between when you've been sick and when you've not practiced.**
General health advice:
- drink more than 8, 8oz. glasses of water (That's 64+ ounces for those doing the math),
- wash your hands,
- exercise regularly,
- sleep a full night (the amount of time differs for everyone, though 8 is a good average),
- eat balanced throughout the day,
- take time to relax each day,
- and, most importantly, PRACTICE.
Know what affects your allergies. If you are irritated by ragweed, pollen, mold, pet dander, etc. you need to know! Allergies affect us all differently; sometimes it merely is a headache, other times heavy drainage and thickened mucous. If that is the case, you should probably be taking a pill (or shots) to prevent it. But know that many allergy medications can dehydrate you so it's of tantamount importance that you are drinking more than 8 full glasses of water each day.
Some people claim that eating local honey daily will help alleviate allergy symptoms. I've tried it, and do believe it can help, but it's not a sure cure. When allergies set in, many people use a Neti Pot to rinse out the interior of their sinus cavities. I Love my Neti Pot and have a plastic one for when I travel. It has helped relieve many sinus infections and shorten the amount of time it takes to recover. At first you're going to think nasal irrigation is gross and tough, but if you want to sing bad enough, you'll do it.
2. The dreaded Cold Virus
The most common ailment I hear throughout the year is the dreaded Cold Virus. A cold can knock you down, but not out! You have to figure out how to treat yourself during this time. I am not a fan of NyQuil/DayQuil options unless some chicken soup and sleep don't make me feel better. The -Quil family can often supplement with caffeine or sleep inducers which help you stay awake/rest but can leave you and your body with a groggy feeling after it leaves your system. Rest is very important, but if you've been practicing regularly prior to the cold you will probably be safe to sing through it.
3. The Flu
Rest, rest, rest and see a doctor to be sure. As a rule, I say if you're running a fever DO NOT sing. Rest. It's your decision to get the flu shot.
4. Mental health
Many people neglect this aspect of their health. It boils down to many factors, but you always need to assess your state of mental well-being. Exercise helps relieve stress, meditation will help clear the mental clutter, but whatever you do you must take care of your brain! Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic, if your self-confidence is secure, if your nerves are in check... if your mind is not set, everything might feel like an attack in your lessons. Your teacher should be there to make you better technically, build your confidence, and push your musicianship. However, if your mental health is suffering for whatever reason, you may feel constantly attacked by your teacher. Analyze if your mental state is helping you or hindering you before addressing your teacher.
5. When to go to the ENT?
Ultimately, you have to know when to go to the ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor). If you or your voice teacher hear a constant rasp in the center of your vocal range- go. If you feel pain in your throat that radiates while you speak after resting- Go. If you experience diplophonic sound from your throat (more than one pitch or prolonged hoarseness)- GO!!!!! Most voice therapists and ENTs will recommend voice rest for a determined amount of time. Hopefully you are not at the stage that you need voice rest (or surgery), but FOLLOW YOUR ENT's PLAN FOR THERAPEUTIC RECOVERY!
6. The Wives' Tales
There are tons of old wives' tales about fixing your voice before a performance if you're sick. There's no one sure fire way, but these are a few of the wives' tales.
- Gargle warm salt water - pretty useful if you're having a lot of drainage that you're feeling on your vocal folds. It can help you get some excess mucous out but not all of it. Don't swallow this, you'll hate yourself if you do,
- Olive oil - yes, it can take care of many bacterial concerns, but there's no significant research that backs it as a way to get over an infection or cure you,
- Hydrogen peroxide - again, this one helps with most bacterial concerns but isn't a sure fire cure. Folks in blogs will tell you to drink it, snort it, swish it in your mouth... I say, use your better judgement,
- Lemon - it's quite acidic and can cause more tension in your throat than soothing,
- Coke-a-Cola - sometimes I love a good bottled Coke before singing. Some people claim it gets mucous off your cords, clears your sinuses, or opens your resonance. See if you like it.
Again, nothing here can replace a good visit to your primary care physician or an ENT, but always follow the directions on medications and use your better judgment about any old wives' tale you take on!
Now, sing out, Louise!