A Singer’s Tips for Surviving Cold and Flu Season

It has arrived! The sniffling, sneezing, snuffling, snorting, and snoring! Cold & Flu season rears it’s ugly head every fall/winter, and it is particularly disastrous for singers. While most other people feel that they can work through a cold if they need to, singers cannot. A cough or sore throat can take down a singing voice, and if we can’t sing, we can’t work. Performances are cancelled. Ticket holders are disappointed. Rehearsals are compromised. Singers infect other singers and entire productions can collapse! So here are my tips—many of them straight from the doctor—on how to survive cold & flu season as a singer. Or perhaps just as the gross, bacteria-laden animal we call a human being.

To prevent getting sick…

  • Be a germaphobe. Don’t share forks, drinks, food from someone else’s plate, etc. It seems obvious, but it’s incredible how often people ask for a lick of your ice cream or a sip of your wine. Find your inner diva, and steel yourself to say, “No! I am a singer!”
  • Boost your immune system. Taking supplements like zinc and echinacea daily will help to strengthen your resistance to viruses. I drink a cup of echinacea tea or Throat Coat tea almost every day. Zinc lozenges are a great alternative to cough drops, which actually dry out your throat from the menthol.
  • Keep your hands clean. The cold virus can survive on a hard surface for 24 hours, the flu for 15 minutes. The virus invades our bodies when we touch infected surfaces and then touch orifices like our mouth and eyes, or other people. Wash your hands regularly, and keep hand sanitizer close by. In my studio I keep special anti-viral Kleenex that kills the cold virus in 15 minutes. Also try to wipe down your space with disinfectant wipes every so often.
  • Get your flu shot. In Ontario it’s free! Many pharmacies offer the shot, and of course you can get it at your doctor’s office. It’s just one more thing you can do to help yourself and others prevent the spread of the flu, which can be fatal to the very young and the very old.

If you are sick…

  • Rest. Your body needs sleep to fight off the virus, and lots of it. The more sleep you get, the shorter your cold’s duration will be. The more you try to push through, the longer your illness will go on.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Your body needs to stay hydrated in order to flush out the virus and keep your immune response strong. This is why you should not take over-the-counter cough medication or nasal sprays if you can avoid them, as most of them work by drying you out. This temporarily relieves your congestion, but longterm makes it harder for your body to heal and prolongs illness duration. Cold & flu medications are for the high-stakes “I-have-to-get-through-the-next-6-hours” situations, not for routine use during a cold, and certainly not for singing. High-dosage echinacea, water, tea, and fruit juice will give you the fluids and vitamin C that you need. Avoid caffeinated drinks, especially coffee, as they tend to dry out your respiratory system and vocal folds. Also avoid dairy as it increases mucus production and congestion.
  • Clean out your nose. Nasal irrigation devices are all the rage these days because they provide non-medicinal relief from nasal congestion using saline or salt water. You can buy a Neti pot at any health food or drug store. Personally I have a Navage because I find I need something a little stronger.
  • Clean out your throat. Gargling with salt-water or even anti-septic mouthwash like Listerine can help to clear out a clogged throat, but hands-down the most effective phlegm-burner is a few drops of straight-up oil of oregano. A nasty business, but very helpful for throat congestion and post-nasal drip. You may also want to try an oral anesthetic (read: “numbing”) throat spray if your sore throat is keeping you up at night. Slippery elm bark supplements also help heal sore or overworked throats.
  • Sleep with a humidifier on. The extra moisture will help to soothe a dry throat and lungs, but keep the setting low to avoid mould. Steam and eucalyptus oil can also help loosen mucus in the respiratory tract.
  • Don’t infect others. You are considered contagious within the first 3-5 days of showing cold symptoms. The cold & flu viruses are not only contracted from contact, but they are also airborne. If you are coughing viral droplets into the air, people can get it just by breathing near you. If you must venture out into the world, then please wear a mask, especially if you will be around other singers. Otherwise, stay home and rest!

Hope that helps! Do you have any favourite home remedies for cold & flu? Let me know what works for you!

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