The Good, The Bad, And The "Mucus-y" - A Seasonal Allergy Guide For Singers

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 by Michele Thomas | Vocal Health

by Michele Thomas


Now a days, just about everyone who walks into my voice studio suffers from seasonal allergies and/or chronic upper respiratory conditions.  Reactions to pollen, dander, dust as a result of asthma, allergies and sinusitis are commonplace; with symptoms running any where from mild to very severe.    

But for singers, any one of these issues can affect the functioning of our voice as they can have a negative impact on our vocal cords, vocal membranes and our ease of breathing.

Why? Because the inside of vocal mechanism requires a certain type of environment to run optimally.  Here's the least you need to know about that environment and how to best keep it working for you.


THE GOOD - Moisture In The Throat 

Your voice needs moisture! Seems pretty obvious, right?  But moisture within the throat requires more than an occasional glass of water to "wet the whistle".  If the body is dehydrated, then the vocal cords and vocal muscles are dehydrated.  Hydration is what provides an ongoing state of moisture within the throat and promotes supple and flexible vocal muscles, which are best for singing and speaking at an optimal level. In other words, you must fully hydrated well before you sing in order to ensure that your vocal muscles are in a good state to perform.  Ideally, singers need to keep hydrating their bodies whether or not they are singing.  

What's some great ways to get hydrated and stay hydrated?

Water, water, water! (Duh!)

But there are other hidden tricks to staying hydrated that make it easy to do.  Water packed foods such as cucumbers, lettuce, melons, pineapples, grapes and berries up your liquid intake big time. Make it even easier by including water packed foods in meals that you can eat readily such as smoothies, juices (from juicers) and salads.

But also consider the foods and beverages that can sometimes inhibit hydration such as salt and caffeine.  In and of themselves, salt and caffeine aren't horrible, but too much of these substances (and it really doesn't take very much) and you can defeat your efforts to stay in a hydrated state; so keep them to a bare minimum  for the sake of your voice. 

THE BAD - Excess Dryness & Mucus In The Throat  

Even with proper hydration, we can encounter other problems within the environment of our throats that are due to outside factors; many of which may be out of our control. It goes without saying that changes in the seasons and extreme weather conditions affect our immediate environment - both outside in nature and inside the shelter of our homes and buildings.  Singers not only face potential allergens both outdoors and indoors, but extreme temperature changes coming from air conditioners or dry heat affect our coming and going all year round.  Singers can be in a constant state of influx as they breathe in dry air from any given environment.  Dryness will leave the delicate vocal cords and vocal membranes in a weakened state and even more susceptible to inflammation that can cause irritation and strain while singing.

And then let's not forget the issue of mucus.  (Yes, it's a gross but necessary subject!)

Mucus can be good for the body.  And when it's good, we hardly notice it because it's thin, "liquid-y" and readily helping to protect our immune system.  But when it's bad, it's thick and slow moving due to the fact that it's in overdrive as it's fighting something in our bodies that is already out of balance. (i.e., dehydration, allergies and/or illness)…  For singers, the result is too much mucus or phlegm weighing down the vocal folds and obstructing the vocal tract, causing increased strain of the muscles and more static in the tone production. Also, like dryness, mucus can cause irritation and strain while singing.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Singers have to be vigilant about the causes of irritation and strain in the their voices.  Our throats and bodies are often vulnerable to our outer environment which can leave even the best trained singer susceptible to illness, vocal fatigue, hoarseness and even loss of voice by laryngitis.  So it's smart to equip ourselves with a few extra tools to help our voices in times of need.

Below are some of my personal recommendations for vocal products according to the symptoms they address:

For throat irritation from dryness  

- Grether's Pastilles

- Vocal-Eze Throat Spray

- Halls Breezers - Pectin Throat Drops








For throat irritation from excess mucus   

- Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Tea

- Thayers Slippery Elm Lozenges

- Alkalol Mucus Solvent and Cleaner








This is just a short list of products that are great for singing and speaking professionals. They are my own personal suggestions, as I myself have used these products to great satisfaction and feel very confident in their quality and effectiveness. However, as with all things in life, use your common sense. I am not a doctor, and none of these products are promised to be a fail-safe remedy or the ultimate cure to any disease, so if you are experiencing more serious vocal health issues or have a bad reaction to any of these products, immediately contact a health professional and go have yourself checked out.

If you have questions of which products might be best for you, send us an email at info@soulstreammusic.com to get more personalized recommendations for your singing voice! 

The Whole Singer - Singer's Diet & Nutrition

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 by Michele Thomas | Vocal Health

This month's posts features articles from two of my favorite experts in the field of vocal coaching.  Jeannie Deva offers a quick and concise guide to understanding the most important physical roadblocks certain foods may present to the voice.  And Cari Cole, celebrity vocal coach offers holistic prescriptions to some of the most common singer ailments including sore throats and hoarseness.  Together they give a wider perspective to how best treat and care for your voice, and even offer some smart tips that you may have never heard of!  Read more below...

Keeping Voices Well During Cold Season: Healthy Singer's Tea

Saturday, February 23, 2013 by Michele Thomas | Vocal Health

by Michele Thomas


 


Colds are so much worse for singers...

So many of my students are consistently sick from cold viruses this season! I think with far more people suffering with regular allergies and even more erratic weather here in Chicago than usual, keeping your immunity strong is more of a challenge than ever! And for myself and my students - trying to keep your voice in a healthy state takes a good amount of diligence.

Because it's not just the cold virus itself that gets us. It's the days (or weeks) of recovery after the virus is done. Congestion, stuffy noses, lingering coughs, thick mucus and phlegm (ewwww!) - all of which interfere with the functioning of a singing voice. The sometimes long wait for your voice to fully recover can be frustrating.  And for active and/or professional singers, the recovery time has to be even swifter in order to get the voice back in shape...

The saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". I say this needs to be the mindset of every singer when it comes to care of their voice. It's important to be proactive in the health of your voice by not only choosing habits that keep your immune system strong but also creating a shield against the constant array of viral and environmental combatants out there.

Healthy Singer's Tea - A Natural Remedy

Try this all-natural delicious hot beverage! This is a great go-to tea whenever you feel a cold coming on. (It has helped me ward off sickness all season long!) It soothes sore throats and coughs, breaks fevers, quells nausea, boosts digestion and fights stomach bugs too!

Fighting cold and flu is especially important for singers as sore throats, excess mucus and congestion have negative effects on your singing voice. And trying to sing under these conditions can cause discomfort to the vocal muscles, not to mention potential vocal injury.

Here's a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to make the tea. (All from my humble kitchen!)

INGREDIENTS

- 1 inch chunk fresh ginger, thinly sliced or grated (no need to peel)

- 16 ounces boiling water

- 1 heaping tablespoon honey (Or more to taste)

- 2 fresh squeezed lemon wedges

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 2 cinnamon sticks

- 6 whole cloves

- 1 star anise pod


DIRECTIONS:

1.) Put on a pot of boiling water.  You will need 16 ounces for this recipe. 

2.) Slice up one inch chunk ginger root.  (No need to peel it, just slice it whole) I tend to use a bit more because I like my tea stonger...

3.) A lemon wedge. (1/4 of a lemon) Again, more if you like the taste of it...

 

4.) Three fresh thyme sprigs - one of my favorite smelling fresh herbs!  You can find these in the produce section of most grocery stores.

5.) Two cinnamon sticks.  Again I like to add an extra stick... just as I will for the other spices.  Because it ends up tasting like hot apple cider to me! (yum!)

6.) Six whole cloves.  I found these at Whole Foods Market, but my favorite place to get the best spices is The Spice House in Evanston, IL!

 

7.) One star anise pod. (pronounced "AN-iss")  These I got from Savory Spice Shop in Hinsdale, IL - another great spice shop! The broken star anise pieces are cheaper in price than the whole star anise pods, so you can save a little money on them...

 

8.) Assemble all your solid ingredients in a thermos or thermal carafe like shown here.  (Something that is meant to keep beverages hot.) Be sure that the container can hold 16 ounces of water.

 

9.) Add one heaping tablespoon of honey. Or more to taste. (And you KNOW I used more than that!) It's good for you too...if you're not a diabetic she says under her breath. 

   
10.) Add your lemon juice.  I like to squeeze mine into a cup before hand...


    
11.) Once your hot water is boiled you can add that as well.  16 ounces (or 2 cups)


     
12.) Stir it all up and seal the container tight.  This is going to steep for about 30 minutes to an hour.  For a even stronger,  more potent brew I recommend letting it steep overnight which I love to do.


Strain the tea through a strainer before serving.  (Or leave everything in the pot which is what I do!) And sit down for a nice cup of soothing, healthful tea! (Look, I even got the steam showing up in the picture! Nice!) Why buy ThermaFlu in the store - other than the obvious convenience - when you can drink this all-natural and none fake tasting beverage for your cold?  Enjoy!


 


*Adapted from Natural Health magazine. Article by Maria Noel Groves, clinical herbalist at Wintergreen Botanicals, L.L.C., in Allenstown, N.H.


Michele Thomas | SOULSTREAM MUSIC All Rights Reserved 2013 www.soulstreammusic.com