Singers Should Be Aware of the Causes of a Sore Throat

We singers often worry about the causes of sore throat. And generally, we have to think more than most people do about preserving our voices.

I know only too well the disappointment that comes with feeling that telltale tiny spot of pain starting in my throat.

For me, the inflammation usually begins on the left side – near my tonsil and the soreness gradually spreads across the nasal area to the other tonsil. At some point, day two or three, the soreness usually stops and “the cold symptoms” (runny nose, sneezing etc.) begin…

What are the causes of sore throat? And what are some of the well-known (and less well known) sore throat remedies?

In most cases, a sore throat is caused by a virus that soon goes away without any drugs. But there are many causes of sore throat. Some of them, including strep throat, need to be treated by a doctor.

From a Singer’s Perspective

I am not a medical doctor (although my mother-in-law calls me “Dr. Tuna” due to my great interest in health), so my intention is not to give you medical advice. Instead I am going to tell you what I know about virus-caused sore throats from my long years of experience as both a professional singer and a teacher.

Singers get sore throats most often due to:

– a virus

– over-singing (singing too much)

– singing badly (for example: pushing the chest voice too high for too long, screaming etc.)

– shouting at events (which can cause a sore throat or laryngitis)

Over-singing and Shouting

In the case of over-singing and shouting, vocal rest is imperative. Do not sing or talk much for a day or so until your throat feels better. And try not to over-sing or shout very often.

If you consistently get a sore throat with normal day-to-day singing, you need to look carefully at your technique and find ways to relieve throat tension, and/or correct a wrong use of registers (pushing your chest voice too high and/or straining your head voice etc.).

But there really is nothing like the sore throat that comes with a virus because when you feel that particular pain developing, you can often expect to be out of commission for a week or so. (If the soreness persists much longer than a week, you should see a doctor.)

But sometimes you really have to perform. And the question arises… Should I sing even though I have this sore throat?

I suggest to my students that if their throat is sore due to a virus, (and we all know what that means), that they should not sing at all – but wait until the soreness has gone and the virus has progressed to the “Ok. Now I have a cold” stage before trying to sing again. And then sing only if you really need to.

When you sing with a sore throat, you risk bringing on laryngitis. And that can put you out of singing condition for much longer than a cold.

So how do you treat a sore throat due to a virus?

A doctor will not prescribe any drugs. S/he will tell you drink plenty of fluids (warm water is best) and rest as much as possible.

What Are Some Other Sore Throat Remedies?

Here is what I do:

– As soon as I know that I have a sore throat due to a virus, I start to gargle with warm salt water 2 – 3 times a day. (A teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water.)

– I usually take pain killer – tylenol or ibuprophen – once or twice a day when the pain it at its worst.

– I put 5 or 6 drops of Oregano Oil (found in health food stores) into a teaspoon of olive oil and gargle with it once or twice a day.

– I also steam my face a couple of times a day. Pour boiling water into a large bowl or pan. Place your face over the pan. Use a towel to keep the steam going in the direction of your nose, taking care not to burn yourself. Breathe in those vapors for about 10 minutes.

– I forgive myself and relax about having a cold. I cancel all singing for a couple of days and get a lot of extra rest.

Over the years, I have found that these simple things have shortened the duration of my cold symptoms and sore throats overall, and made the cold process much less severe.

Keep in mind that you are likely to suffer fewer such problems if you eat well, sleep well and cut down on stress.