Laryngitis can cost a singer opportunity and money, or just turn a fun gig into a struggle. There are different causes for laryngitis. This post addresses the easiest one to prevent and fix: illness.
As a singer/songwriter, touring through Europe used to be tough on my throat. I often spent six to ten weeks at a pop crammed inside a van, sometimes ten gigs in a row without a rest. Shows lasted hours, clubs were clouds of smoke, I generally could not hear myself through shoddy house system monitors. I was meeting hundreds of people, getting little sleep, and not enough exercise. It was difficult to avoid sickness, hoarseness and laryngitis. There were too many nights I did not know if I was going to make it through a show due to voice loss. Looking back, I am lucky I never caused permanent damage to my vocal cords.
I take much better care of myself now. As a vocal coach, I'm one of those "I never get sick" people. I cannot remember the last time I lost my voice due to illness until recently, a week before my scheduled taping on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. I carelessly kissed my sick child on the lips and got a 102 degree fever. There was absolutely no voice coming out the day before the show. It was all air.
Students often ask me about a laryngitis treatment. Prevention is the best medicine, but I also have a 24 hour cure.
Prevention: Drink water, take your vitamins (I use Gan Mao Ling if I feel something coming on, recommended by licensed acupuncturist, Andrea Natta), get rest, wash your hands often, avoid too much alcohol or caffeine. For hoarseness in the mornings, try sleeping with your head slightly propped up, avoiding spicy or acidic foods several hours before going to bed -- in case minor acid reflux is the culprit. For arid climates or dry air due to heating, use a hot steam vaporizer. Avoid stress and emotional upset before shows or recording. On airplanes, bring a hoody sweatshirt and wear it backwards with the hood over your face or wrap a scarf around your mouth to protect your voice from dry air. Also, try a sleep collar -- I like it better than pillows, because it keeps my throat warm and I get better rest.
Below is the regimen I used to get rid of my laryngitis, because I got cocky about preventing illness. I regained my voice 80% -- enough for the show taping. I am not a doctor and you should not follow the regimen without talking to your doctor. Fortunately, my voice student Dr. Sam Adams is also an internist in San Francisco, and he reviewed the regimen with me. I want to emphasize that this is my 24 hour cure for laryngitis that is caused by sickness only. I will cover other causes of laryngitis in future posts.
My 24 Hour Cure For Laryngitis Due To Illness (do not try without your doctor's approval):
2 ibuprofen* (total of 400mg) every six hours
2 aspirin* every six hrs., aspirin chewed and swallowed slowly without water, allowed to sit on the throat. After 15-20 minutes, sips of temperate water.
Note from Dr. Sam Adams:
"Using aspirin in combination with ibuprofen is acceptable, but gives a higher risk of an ulcer or other gastrointestinal irritation. Singers should check with their doctors before using these medications. "
At least 12 oz. of water every hour.
Lots of steam (loosens phlegm which stops the cords from vibrating). Pour boiling water in a bowl and put a towel over your head. Breathe in steam through nose and mouth alternatively for ten minutes. Repeat every hour.
Honey and lemon in chamomile tea (not too hot). Chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Mucus thinner, cough suppressant every 4 hrs.
No Pseudoephedrine! Pseudoephedrine dries the mucus to your cords. The goal is to get the mucus off the cords.
Lots of sleep with the head raised, so the cords swell less while resting.
No talking. No whispering (worse than talking).
A positive and calm attitude. Once you're sick, any added stress can further compromise your immune system and make you sicker.
A few sips of cognac an hour before singing.
If you've lost your voice, take it easy when you begin to regain it. Don't push your voice -- this can cause damage that can take a long time to heal. The body is not a machine. If you are in doubt, let go of the vaudevillian "show must go on" axiom and reschedule if possible. Better safe, than injured.