A sore throat is unpleasant, to say the least. As well as being painful, these viruses can affect your whole body, making you feel tired and run down. So how do performers cope when one hits?
Singing with a sore throat can give you a higher chance of damaging your vocal cords. This is why professional singers learn how to sing properly, how to avoid the potential risks of performing with a sore throat and the right remedies to get back in action.
In this article, we’ll reveal the best ways to take care of your voice before, during and after a sore throat hits. We’ll also help you to identify whether your sore throat has been caused by overuse or bacterial infection and how to speed up the healing process.
Singing with a sore throat: Is it harmful to sing with a sore throat?
It’s not as simple as whether or not it’s harmful to sing with a sore throat, It really depends how bad your throat is, whether your vocal cords are damaged (as opposed to just having a throat virus) and how well prepared you are.
I have a sore throat and am singing tonight
This is something every singer dreads, but also that every singer has to deal with. Your throat is sore and you have a gig the same night. Don’t worry, because this is actually a very common problem and there are ways around it, even if you’re hoarse and have a heavy cold. If you’re due to go to vocal coaching or choir practice, then it’s well worth cancelling if it’s not a critical event. But shows are a different matter.
Sore throat remedies
We’ll be looking at tried and tested remedies to soothe and heal a sore throat. This will enable you to get back to full vocal strength quickly and to relieve the discomfort you may be feeling when trying to get through a live show or pre-paid recording session.
How to prevent a sore throat from singing
The first step for protecting your voice as a singer is preventing your throat getting sore in the first place. Sore throats are not completely avoidable, but we can take precautions especially during winter month, to avoid catching one. Here are our tips for maintaining vocal health before you get sick:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if you come into contact with anyone who already has a sore throat or cold.
- Take echinacea to boost your immune system and ward off bugs.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients.
- Drink plenty of water to flush away toxins.
- Keep your throat and head covered in very cold conditions – hats and scarves are your friends.
- Take ‘vocal naps’ – periods where you rest your voice completely.
- Get plenty of sleep. Shut-eye also boosts your immunity and aids healing.
What causes a sore throat when singing?
There are two main reasons your throat may be sore. Either you have a mild or severe vocal strain or a bacterial infection. Both have the effect of making your throat sore. If you feel well and are experiencing no other symptoms, such as tiredness, headache, feverishness, blocked nose, muscle aches or fatigue, then you’ve probably strained your voice.
Why does singing give me a sore throat?
Singing uses muscles. But if you use the wrong ones, or overuse the right ones, they get tired. Much like an athlete may suffer from physical aches and pains, so do singers. If you frequently get sore throats from singing, you may be performing songs out of your natural range, that stretch your voice too far. You may not be warming up and down enough, or you may not have good enough breath control.
How to sing with a sore throat
First let’s delve into how to sing when you have a sore throat caused by a virus, presuming you don’t have vocal strain.
How to sing when sick
Singing with a cough and singing with a cold
Your sore throat may well be accompanied by a cough and a cold. As long as you’re well enough to go out and about, you can still sing with a sore throat. If possible try and sing songs in your natural range, that don’t require tons of vocal energy and feel easy to sing. Avoid anything very high, or low and very fast numbers.
Vocal warm-ups for a sore throat
Now is not the time to skip your warm-up. Be very gentle and focus on exercises that involve humming and breath control. This will stop you singing from the throat, and work on supporting the sound with the diaphragm instead.
What helps a sore throat before singing?
If you’ve woken up on the day of a show or audition, try and rest your voice until it’s time to start warming it up. You could take some paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin if your throat is sore from a virus – this also helps to bring down any temperature that may accompany it.
Best medicine for sore throat and cough and emergency vocal remedy
You may also want to grab an emergency remedy before you go on stage. Cough syrups are very soothing, but not great for your voice, due to their sugary, claggy consistency.
Scratchy throat remedies for singers
Here are some things you can try to get rid of a scratchy throat in lieu of an over the counter cough medicine:
- Gargle with saltwater.
- Drink fresh lemon juice in warm water.
- Use an echinacea and sage spray.
Sore throat remedies for kids
Painkillers may not be appropriate for younger singers, but Calpol is a great alternative and much more palatable than having to swallow pills. You can also any of the natural remedies we recommend as these have no side effects or age limit.
Do check if your child has a strep throat, rather than just a sore throat, as this is best treated with prescription antibiotics.
Sore throat remedies – Honey and Vocalzone
Manuka honey is widely used in the world of medicine as a proven antibacterial agent. Buy a high-quality product from a health food store and take it to soothe and heal your sore throat. Make sure you don’t put it in hot or boiling water and this will almost completely remove its beneficial properties. You only need a small amount and it can be taken simply on a spoon.
Vocalzone tablets are also hugely popular in the music community – often used to soothe and clear the voice right before going on stage.
How to cure a sore throat from singing
There is no quick fix for a sore throat. Rest and remedies will speed up healing though.
My throat hurts from singing too much
Can singing make your throat sore?
Singing can definitely make your throat sore. But if you don’t have an infection and aren’t singing all day every day, then your sore throat is likely a result of singing with poor technique. It’s time to examine how you’re using your body when singing. The best way to do this is to work with a vocal coach who can see where you’re going wrong.
Sore throat from singing symptoms
You’ll know you have a sore throat from singing if:
- Your sore throat comes on after singing and goes away again after a period of not doing any singing.
- You have no other symptoms to indicate a viral or bacterial infection is present.
- Your throat gets worse the more you sing.
My throat hurts after singing high
If you’re singing higher notes than your natural range allows, you have to really support it with the breath. Should you experience discomfort after singing certain songs, you may be reaching and straining for those high notes. Drop the song down a tone. Don’t keep singing high notes if they hurt your throat, as you could damage it. Then focus on very gradually increasing your range safely and slowly, with scales and breath control exercises.
What helps a sore throat from singing?
Many of our recommended remedies involve products you may have in the fridge or kitchen cupboards anyway. Food and drink play a big part in vocal and overall health, which is why we talk about nutrition a lot. Let’s take a look at some ingredients and meals that are brilliant for soothing and curing your sore throat.
How to soothe a sore throat from singing
A list of good things to eat and drink when singing with a sore throat
Here are some great things to eat and drink for your sore throat:
- Peppers. The capsicum in these veggies has anti-inflammatory properties to ease pain and fight infection (if your sore throat is from a bacterial infection).
- Hot sauce. If you can’t stomach a pepper, eat some hot sauce that’s made from them instead.
- Drink clove or green tea for the inflammation and chamomile tea for vocal lubrication.
- Turmeric, cumin and garlic. Cook up a curry rich in these ingredients to fight any bugs that may be in your system and increase your overall health.
- Miso soup. This is rich in probiotics to boost your immunity, which will, in turn, help your throat heal faster.
- Dairy alternatives. Avoid all dairy products when you have a sore throat as they make your voice claggy.
- Bone broth – an old fashioned reliable remedy when sick or suffering from a sore throat. Boil up a batch of chicken soup for 8 to 12 hours. Add lots of veggies and raw apple cider vinegar to draw out the nutrients from the chicken bones (take out the bones before eating the soup).
What do singers drink before they sing?
Singers usually drink warm or room temperature water and herbal teas. For more information on what to eat and drink before singing (in sickness and in health), read our article on the best food and beverages for artists.
Can your throat hurt from singing?
Yes. You can absolutely hurt your throat from singing, which is why it’s important to be aware when you’re straining it. If you continue, you may lose your voice altogether for a period, or damage your vocal cords.
What are the symptoms of a damaged vocal cord?
There are different types of vocal cord damage. A doctor or specialist would need to diagnose which, if any, of these you have. But the general rule is, if you have persistent hoarseness and voice loss that continues for more than two weeks, make an appointment to get it checked out.
Vocal cord nodules, polyps and cysts
If you have a growth on your vocal cords, you may feel like you have a lump in your throat, o feel pain between your ears. You may sound hoarse, scratchy and breathy, with pain in your neck. Some of these will go away after a few months of rest and exercises with professional vocal guidance. Others may require surgery.
Vocal cord rupture
A vocal cord rupture, or haemorrhage, is when bleeding occurs, often due to a gruelling amount of singing. A rupture can heal in a week to 10 days if minor, but that means little or no speaking or singing at all. Symptoms are sudden hoarseness and voice loss with no pain. It occurs with forcing the voice, overuse and exposure to irritants like smoke. If you don’t have any cold, flu, or bacterial related symptoms and you lose your voice, then this might be the cause.
This is the best of the bunch, as it just means your voice is exhausted. Take note though, as if you don’t take adequate rest and examine your technique, you may develop a more serious problem. Your throat and vocal cords may gradually feel a little sore, and you may have intermittent mild voice loss that gets better with rest.
Vocal cord paralysis
If you have this, your voice will sound extremely breathy and you’ll be unable to move one or both of your vocal folds at all. You may also have trouble swallowing and pain when speaking. It is not known exactly what causes this, but it’s unlikely to be from oversinging.
Can you heal damaged vocal cords?
Yes. Damaged vocal cords can heal over time, but they must have rest. It could take weeks or several months. This is why many high profile singers have had to cancel tours and shows. Famous names who have experienced considerable vocal damage include Adele, Julie Andrews, Elton John, John Mayer, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Joss Stone, Luciano Pavarotti, Freddie Mercury and Justin Timberlake.
As this list makes clear, it’s not only singers from certain musical genres who have problems. Whatever your singing style, whether operatic, rock or pop, if you force your voice or oversing, you can do damage.
If the damage is more severe, you may need surgery. This is usually only relevant for full-time professional singers who have really exerted and overused their voices over a long period.
Sore throat pictures and videos
You’ll find lots of pictures online showing the different type of sore throat and vocal damage. In this video, you’ll see a laryngoscopy, where a tiny camera is inserted into the throat to show the vocal cords in both health and damage conditions.
Prevention and detecting vocal problems early are the best courses of action. Don’t underestimate the value of taking care of yourself and your voice when singing with a sore throat. We’d all love a super cure for a sore throat that doesn’t involve stopping singing. But remember that a period of rest is often the best – and only way – to heal vocal strain. Having a good vocal coach will keep your technique on track. And while infections will strike from time to time, a resilient, strong voice will bounce back relatively quickly – especially with some of these great, health-giving remedies.
- How long do sore throats last?
A sore throat from a viral or bacterial infection should last no longer than a few days to a week. If you have a sore throat that persists, seek medical advice and consider whether your singing technique is causing constant vocal strain.
- What cures strep throat fast?
If you have a strep throat (as opposed to a viral or bacterial infection), you’ll probably need a course of antibiotics. These can be prescribed by your doctor. A strep throat causes reddened tonsils with possible red spots on the roof of the mouth and white patches or pus on the tonsils.
- How do singers take care of their throat?
Singers ensure they use good vocal technique, as guided by a coach or singing teacher. Tey warm and warm down before and after performances and eat a nutrient-rich, healthy diet. Drinking lots of water is also important.
Do you have any advice or remedies for singing with a sore throat? Have you suffered from vocal cord damage? Tell us about it in the comments below.