Am I too Sick to Sing? By Daniel K. Robinson

As we head towards the colder months we find ourselves asking the question, “When am I too sick to sing?” A difficult question to answer...but hopefully the following article will go towards helping you make a decision. Firstly lets create some parameters...i.e. we are only going to be talking about health issues that affect the voices ability to sing. Always remember that your family doctor or chosen health professional is best equipped to direct any decisions regarding your health and well-being. This being are some valuable questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I still have a voice? If you do, then does it sound like your normal spoken sound?: Any change in your spoken voice can be an indicator as to the health of your voice. Often a lowered spoken pitch can indicate swollen vocal folds. If your vocal folds are swollen...proceed with caution!

2. Does it hurt to swallow?: If eating or drinking are uncomfortable, or simple swallowing causes pain, then you possibly have a an upper respiratory infection (URI). Any URI can affect the voice with adverse consequences. Roma Waterman in her book, “The Working Singers Handbook” writes the following:

“Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal folds to the point of partial or complete vocal loss. It can be bacterial or viral in origin. When your folds are inflamed, phonation becomes a problem, resulting in hoarseness, and deterioration in the quality of sound. So if it hurts in your throat when you swallow do not attempt to sing...Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the oral and nasal pharynx - the part of the vocal tract just above the larynx. The oral pharynx extends up to the soft palate. The nasal pharynx extends up into the nose. If you persist in singing when you have an URT[infection], you can cause unnecessary damage to your throat, and perhaps your vocal folds. Pharyngitis can easily develop into laryngitis.” (Waterman, p150)

3. Am I Infectious? Today’s virus and bacteria strains can be highly infectious and you should avoid ‘passing on’ whatever you’ve got. At Djarts, between 80-100 singers come through the studio every fortnight (not to mention the voice coaches)! Each Djarts student is working towards keeping their voice healthy and free from infection, but it would only take one sick singer, ignorantly or otherwise, to attend their voice lesson, breathe into the circulated air-conditioned atmosphere, and ‘hey presto’ another one hundred students run the risk of also getting sick. The risk is not only yours!

4. Can you afford to sing?: A funny question, but often the factor that makes the final decision is the proverbial dollar. Students with sore voices frequently ring on the day of their lesson asking whether they should come to their lesson or not. After asking the above three questions and determining the severity of the ‘sick voice’ I ask whether the singer can ‘afford to sing’. Sure, a lesson forfeited due to non-attendance costs money, moreover a cancelled gig, can cost even more. But lets count the possible cost of voice damage due to continued use of a sore/sick voice. Can you afford the 6-18months recovery time, and resulting inhibited voice use, from possible nodules and other voice pathologies? Can you afford the ENT specialist’s costs along with the speech therapy needed to remediate your voice? Prevention is always better, and often cheaper, than cure! Will I cancel a voice lesson/gig or will I risk the health of my voice? What can I afford?

Ultimately every singer must make their own decisions regarding the health of their voice. Each decision has a consequence with a range of possible outcomes. You only have one voice! Look after it. Am I too sick to sing? You be the judge...and please...make a healthy decision!

A link to the original article (and many more that delve deeper into the world of vocal care) can be found here, courtesy of Dr.Dan:

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