27 Sep Singing with Bronchitis

Different singers have different struggles…
Many singers have poor technique (and if you find yourself “losing your voice” frequently you should really consider proper training or re-training if your technique has laxed)
Some singers are hindered by seasonal allergies…
Some singers never get enough physical rest…

For me, it’s bronchitis. I seem to get it at least once a year. My dad gets is every year and I’m assuming it’s a susceptibility that I’ve inherited.

Unfortunately for me, work doesn’t end just because I am coughing and hacking away. I still have to sing. While there seems to be nothing worse for my beloved chords than the fierce coughing so prevalent in bronchitis, over the years I have found a way to keep the coughing to a minimum, and thus reduce the impact to my voice and overall singing.

My formula:
Talk as little as possible (which is difficult for me)
Regularly use cough drops with a high menthol content (I prefer Halls Sugar Free peppermint)
and the MOST important: Hot peppermint tea

Regularly sipping on hot peppermint tea, especially mint with it’s soothing vapors, significantly reduces coughing. It’s like night and day. Seriously, within 20 minutes or so of finishing a cup I will start right into coughing again. But keeping the tea on hand (I keep it HOT in a thermos) reduces my coughing by 90% at least.

This is NOT a solution for laryngitis caused by vocal abuse. With bronchitis, the bronchial tubes are infected and inflamed, and mucus collects on the vocal chords. That chest congestion makes you want to cough which in turn causes further irritation to the chords. You need to cough to help clear out the mucus, but in my experience the vast majority of coughs are not productive. They only serve to further irritate the chords.

The hot tea, for whatever reason, helps reduce my coughing. I discovered this when I had to play and sing for several hours at a wedding ceremony and reception in January 2010. I actually had two weddings back to back that weekend, one on Friday and the other on Saturday.

I came down with bronchitis just before the first wedding, which happened to be held at Inside the Bungalow, a beautiful wedding venue and coffee shop. It was cold out so naturally I wanted something warm to drink, and one of the owners recommended a lemon tea. Well, that tea got me through the night.

I didn’t know it was the tea that helped so much, until at the next day’s wedding, I found myself barely getting through songs without coughing into the mic. I asked one of the waiters for some hot herbal tea, and it worked like magic. I told him to “keep it coming”! I sang 5 hours that night.

Now, the ideal situation is to NOT SING AT ALL when you have bronchitis. However, if singing is part of your profession, the show must go on. I still highly recommend that you “play it safe” in your singing. Do not choose your most technically challenging pieces when you are sick (OBVIOUSLY). Play more instrumental if you can, but I hope that these tips can at least help you get through the gig as they have helped me.

8 Comments
  • Gloria
    Posted at 12:02h, 31 January Reply

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks so much for this fantastic advice. I’m currently recovering from bronchitis and have already applied some of the things you’re mentioning here so it’s great to re assure what I’m doing! Also I’ll try the hot peppermint.
    I’m also a professional singer and get bronchitis about once or twice per year, usually around January, Feb.
    Well thanks again and all the best
    Glo x

    • rdlt
      Posted at 18:40h, 31 January Reply

      Thank you for the feedback, Gloria! I’m so glad it has helped you. I get bronchitis as much as twice a year, too. I have an article I will post soon about preventing bronchitis that helped me last September. I will be posting it soon.
      By the way, I checked out your web site and you sound awesome! Blessings to you,

      -rebecca

      • Sarah Blake LaRose
        Posted at 19:18h, 21 March Reply

        Thank you for posting this article. Many years ago, I had chronic bronchitis and was able to sing through illness. I have beel well for a number of years until this month, and I am recovering from a bout that required hospitalization and caused complete loss of my voice for over a week. It is a very frustrating process since many singers warn me away from menthal. Do you have thoughts about this?

        • rdlt
          Posted at 19:53h, 21 March Reply

          Hi Sarah,

          Thank you for your comment. It seems that different singers have different reactions to the same foods or other chemical compounds. Personally, I can eat or drink just about anything without a noticeable hindrance to my singing. This includes all the staples that singers are supposed to avoid including milk, cheese, coffee, etc. However, I also eat a very balanced diet and drink plenty of water so maybe that reduces any noticeable impact on my voice.

          I am saying all of this because I believe the same may apply for menthol. I have found that for me, menthol cough drops are a great boon, even when I just have a mild sore throat from a cold. I make sure to get the sugar-free versions, though, as the sugary ones are not only bad for your teeth, but they seem to dry out my mouth more.

          I would recommend you at least give the menthol cough drops a try. And I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly helpful the hot peppermint (or any kind of mint) tea can help. Not only do the vapors help soothe my bronchial tubes, but the heat from the tea helps expand and relax my throat as well. I highly recommend against drinking anything cold while singing if you can avoid it.

          One other thing: as I mentioned in my article, “Preventing Bronchitis from Crippling Your Singing Voice“, I also recommend you ask your doctor about an Albuterol inhaler. It’s primarily used for asthma, but can be used for bronchitis to curb the coughing bouts. And less coughing means less stress on your chords.

          I hope this is helpful. Many blessings to you and I hope your voice recovers completely and soon!

          -rebecca

  • Katya
    Posted at 08:37h, 18 September Reply

    Hello, thank you for the article, I’m a professional singer as well and have recently found out that I’ve “inherited” bronchitis from my mom, whose predisposition is a weak respiratory system. I’ve now more than often started catching a cold that would quickly turn into congested chest. I’m now suffering with bronchitis for almost a month, yet I’ve been singing meanwhile, as I couldn’t cancel a few shows, so I’m assuming that is the reason its been going on for so long. What are your suggestions for preventing bronchitis?

  • Carol Nicodemi
    Posted at 03:34h, 25 January Reply

    Hi,
    This is all really great advice! I perform and also,
    tend toward getting a bad chest cold about twice a year. In August, my husband and I did a gig at a library. and two days before I could hardly talk, much less sing. So I went to the doctor, and was given antibiotics, steroids and an inhaler. It was magic, and my voice was about 80% functional for the performance. That’s the good news. Two months later I developed c-difficile, which is a stomach bug directly related to the antibiotics I took. I took additional antibiotics to get rid of the bug, now am advised not to take antibiotics anymore if I can help it.
    Now what to do when I get sick and have to sing? Sigh.
    Your advice?
    Thanks, Carol:)

    • Rebecca De La Torre
      Posted at 15:43h, 25 January Reply

      Hi Carol!
      Thank you for reading and thank you for the good feedback. I don’t recommend taking antibiotics unless you really need to – honestly I only take them when it’s clearly not going away on it’s own. The inhaler is the BEST. Keep using that if you are not getting any negative reactions.
      The last few times I’ve gotten a chest cold, including one recently that lasted almost three weeks, I did not take antibiotics, but I used all the tips I have shared here and NEVER developed bronchitis – even recently when I was recording in Nashville part of the time so I was in the studio singing every day.
      One thing that helped a TON was Guaifenesin syrup – it’s sold under the brand name Mucinex or Robitussin – but I’m careful to only get the Guaifenesin version without all the other things. If you are coughing a lot you may want to get a version that has a cough suppressant as well, but I steer away from the pain reliever and antihistamines. Antihistamines tend to dry me out.
      The Guaifenesin helps to break up the mucus so it makes your coughs “more productive” – which, gross as it sounds, is what we want.
      HOT MINT TEA is a lifesaver as well. The soothing aroma is great for your throat and any warm liquid is good to help with a cold. The tea will keep you hydrated as well – another key point!
      I also take a multivitamin back like Airborne or Emergen-C when I am starting to feel bad. I take those twice a day to give my immune system an extra boost! They can be pricey but SO worth it in the long run.
      The goal is that when we get a cold, because it’s inevitable that we will, that it doesn’t turn into bronchitis. And thanks to learning from my own experience and following my own advice, I haven’t had bronchitis in over 2 years! But I have definitely gotten a few colds…
      I hope this helps! Blessings to you!
      Rebecca

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