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Your Voice in Cold & Flu Season

How to look after your voice during cold and flu season

As I’m writing this, I have a big old feckin’ cold… I left the confines of my home to go on holiday and mingle with other humans and catch all of their germs, so I’m currently sniffling and going through tissues like nobody’s business. I’m feeling very husky, I’m on the edge of what I consider to be almost back to full health, but my voice is a little bit croaky and tired so I figured what a great prompt to talk about how to look after your voice during cold & flu season!

Can I get a high 5?! *coughs and splutters*

So what can you do to prevent getting ill and thus look after your voice during the winter season? 

Here are my top 5 voice care tips for the winter season: 

*Top of the Pops theme tune plays now, you can hear it, right?*

1. Our old friend, hydration.

Hopefully you’ve remembered to stay hydrated (to like, live) but this is your reminder that you need to stay hydrated to help your voice. Around 6-8 glasses of water a day. If you’re struggling to hydrate or you’re one of those people who never truly feels hydrated then check out episode 5 of The Voice Coach Podcast, all about hydration. 

Of course, *warm drinks are great this time of the year. Not just because they taste lush but because the warmth is soothing. And of course, remember as well as systemic hydration through fluids you take in, get yourself on the nebuliser with some isotonic saline solution. I’m puffing away on my vocal mist as I type *misty sound effect goes here*. A bit of a nebuliser is great to get that lovely fluid on the outside of the vocal folds for a bit of topical hydration and good old steam for the soothing of the pharyngeal area and the vocal tract – plus a bit of germ-killing from the heat as it passes through. 

*Mulled wine perhaps? I’ll let you decide on that depending on the day, the time and your mood, just chase it with water. 

2. Just feckin’ look after yourself.

Sure, it’s party season – I get it. Invites are flooding the house! But you still need your sleep, so get the amount of sleep that you feel your body needs. Maybe even a cheeky few naps? You’re welcome for that advice!

Now I’m absolutely here for the ‘feck it, it’s nearly Christmas’ diet, we all need a bit of extra chub in the cold – right? But just make sure that you’re chasing the selection box or the Christmas cake with an orange or some other fruit and veg – the vitamins within them stave off the bugs. Plus fresh fruit and veg count towards your… hydration! 

3. The humble scarf.

Yes, that’s right, keep your throat warm! I’m not joking, and not just your throat, your whole self. Please dress appropriately (I know I’m probably addressing my younger audience now, because if you’re anything like me or mid-thirties upwards, you probably love dressing appropriately and being nice and snuggly and warm). But get yourself cosy! Hunt out the thermals, get your big pants on, buy a hat… keep yourself warm! I just bought one of those sleeping bag type coats that goes top to toe in a padded, puffy material, and honestly – I’m living in it!

Keep yourself actually, literally, warm – especially your throat. 

4. Check in on your home environment. 

Central heating can be a wee bit drying for the voice, especially in the room you’re sleeping in. So just check whether you’re feeling a bit dry. Are you croaky in the mornings or a bit more dehydrated than usual in the daytime? I know in the US they’re really into their humidifiers to add a wee bit more moisture into the space, but the classically British bargain advice I was given is to stick a little bowl of water under your radiator so that the moisture can evaporate up and out! Winner winner, more hydrated vocal folds… that’s not quite as catchy is it?

5. Nose breathing!

Wherever possible, breathe in through your nose if you’re out and about. Nose breathing is not new to me, but I’ve been doing it loads more recently because of all the buzz around breathwork. Not only is nose breathing good for your mental health (yes, I know but I have practised this and it works to keep me calmer through moments of calmer), but the wee hairs on the lining of the nose filter out some of the nasty germs for us – isn’t that kind? They also heat the air up which is lovely on those frosting mornings, and they moisten the air as well. 

Okay, I know I said 5 but I’ve thought of a few more tips to keep that voice healthy this winter…

6. Check in on your warm-up routine.

You might want to just make sure that your usual warm-up is getting you where you need to be now that the weather’s cooler. If you’re going from a hot train to a cold outside, to an artificially heated studio or office or performing space, or even if you’re performing outside, that’s a lot of extra temperature for your body to regulate so maybe just add some extra stretches or humming or some more SOVT work to your warm-up routine. 

Oh, and here’s a whole podcast episode on how to structure your warm-up (episode one), I’ve got some short courses on my website for tongue release, jaw release and a cheeky 8-minute breath awareness and release meditation that can help with tweaking your warm up if you feel like you need a bit of a change!

Finally, 7. If you are ill, pay attention to how your voice responds to over-the-counter medication.

Some cold & flu remedies really dry things up, the ones with decongestion in are designed to dry up mucus but sadly that means that all mucus, not just the bad stuff that causes us the havoc. It will get to your vocal fold mucus as well, and that’s the good mucus that we need. 

So, up your hydration, yes – again! I swear it’s going to say ‘hydrated’ on my tombstone. 

Rest your voice as much as you can.

Stay away from lozenges with pain-killing properties because you might do yourself a mischief pushing through if you think you’re better but you actually just can’t feel it any more.

And give yourself a few days to get over it, tell the people that you might feel you’re letting down and have some rest, hydration and good food. 

Voice users are athletes, and you wouldn’t see an athlete running with a broken toe

In summary, my five (ish) top tips for keeping your voice healthy during cold season are; 
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat some fruit and maybe a few vegetables, 
  • Wear a big fat scarf
  • Nose breathe, 
  • Moisturise your environment, 
  • Check your warm-up 
  • and if necessary – take the recovery time you need. 

Right, if anyone needs me I’ll be lying down and puffing on my nebuliser!  

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