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Working Through the Common Cold

Professional voice actors catch colds.  Singers get sick.  Stage performers fall ill.  And when that happens, working through the common cold is an important skill to have.

You can take precautions to limit your exposure to germs, and you can do things to support your immune system.  But if you (like me) have small children, it’s inevitable that you’ll catch something.  And if you (like me) have small children, you might catch something several times per year.  And each illness may impact your ability to work for up to two weeks.  Which is why I’m writing this post.  I’m a voice actor and I just recovered from a cold, after twelve days with lingering symptoms.

I eat fruits and vegetables and take vitamins.  Sometimes, I work out.  I also have two small children who go to public school and a day care center, and sometimes they sneeze right into my eyes.  So, I get sick occasionally.

So what can a voice actor do about a cold?

While there’s no magic remedy to restore you to full health immediately, there are a lot of anecdotal and folk remedies that performers swear by.  I’ve known singers who use Throat Coat Tea, and others who insisted that eating a jalapeno pepper before hitting the stage worked for them.  There’s no wrong answer.  Try things, and do whatever works for you.

When I start to feel that itch in the back of my throat, I start by getting right with the situation.  I’m going to be dealing with the symptoms of this cold for as long as it takes to leave my body, and while it might be sad if I miss an opportunity or lose a job, I’m also going to be healthy again and I’ll have more opportunities.

I think that piece of the puzzle is good for my mental well being, and it helps me not spend the following days (or weeks) suppressing feelings of anxiety over missed work and the fear of lost opportunities.  Feeling sad sometimes can be good for you.

Now, from my point of view, sounding sick is way worse than feeling sick.  A few things that might help voice actor cold symptoms include:

  • Increased hydration:  Especially in winter (here in Wisconsin), dryness can cause real issues with your vocal sound.  When your immune system is working harder, you’ll need even more hydration.  Drink a lot of water.
  • Vocal rest:  When my throat, sinus, and airways are irritated or swollen, I want to be more selective about using my voice.  I might be able to sound pretty good on a single studio session, but I know my limits.
  • Over the counter meds:  Obviously, talk to a medical professional before you take anything, as I have.  I take Guafinessin (Mucinex) to reduce my congestion, and Ibuprofen (Advil) to reducing swelling in my airway and sinus.  They do help me sound more normal.
  • And when I have to record with cold symptoms, I can coax a slightly less affected sound by sipping hot non-caffeinated teas and warm honey water, as well as things like Vocalzone lozenges.  These things won’t make me feel much better, but they help me sound a bit better.  Every bit helps.

If you ever find yourself in need of using your voice while ill, I hope you find a few things that help you get on track and through it.