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Coughing and singers – what to do!?

My personal steamer

Ok, so I have been sick with a lung infection for a week and coughing everyday – making me sad, my vocal folds sad, basically my lungs and trachea and vocal folds and throat are all bit sad at the moment.

Why is coughing so bad for singers?

Coughing, clearing your throat, sneezing, vomiting – they all irritate the vocal folds. Coughing, clearing your throat and sneezing all create a large force of air rushing past your vocal folds at a high speed and your vocal folds “clap together” or vibrate very strongly – check it out on youtube here. Coughing is vocal fold violence! Vomiting can result in stomach acid coming up the oesophagus and irritating the vocal folds leading to further irritation.

OK – a disclaimer – I am not a doctor. Check with your doctor first – especially about medications and for your individual situation.

So, how do you avoid coughing when you need to cough to get the sputum / mucous out of your chest when you are ill? These ideas have worked for my students and I:

1. You are probably going to have to cough. Just saying. I live in the real world, I hate coughing, I avoid coughing, but I do it, you do it, it happens. You need to move that mucous out go the lungs somehow. Accept it, then move on to cough reduction mode!

2. When you feel the need to cough or clear your throat have a sip of water. It can often take away the urge to cough which is important if the cough is a dry irritating one that you just need to try and stop. Also, tea with honey, or lemon and honey in boring water sipped slowly can sooth the throat and slow the cough reflex.

3. Thin the mucous. If the mucous is thinner it easier for it to cough up / be reabsorbed back into the body with minimal coughing.

  • Drinking fluids helps thin the mucous / sputum (sputum is mucous that is in your lungs).
  • Steam helps thin the mucous – steamy showers, humidifiers (keep them clean) and I love my  personal steam inhaler. A bowl filled with boiling water and a towel over the head is great too (Thanks Grandma! She used to do this for me when I was little and sick and it works a treat).
  • Medication like Bisolven tablets contain bromhexine which thins, loosens and clears mucous in the lungs. I find these help reduce coughing. (Check with your doctor!)

4. I usually don’t take decongestants or cough suppressants which dry the mucous out because we need the mucous coating on our vocal folds to function as singers, however, at night time a decongestant or cough suppressant which avoids night time post nasal drip  and that awful dry sore morning throat can be just the thing (Postnasal drip – mucous drains from the back of the nose down the throat and into the …. stomach or lungs? Whatever – it is disgusting, right?). Be aware, though, that often these can last for up to 24 hours and you will feel better, but your vocal folds might be dry dry dry and singing on them may irritate them further. Again – check with your doctor! I never sing with a decongestant in my body.

Ok, so I hope that helps to you address any coughing problems. Feel free to send me your helpful tips.

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