[Note: This is one in a series of posts on being prepared to weather the best and worst of times when you depend on your voice for your livelihood. As stated in the preface for this series of articles these tips aren’t meant to take the place of advice from a Medical Professional, if you need to see a medical doctor, see one!]
There’s a story I heard that was credited to a well known piano accompanist (I don’t remember who) about accompanying a famous diva. The accompanist was on stage and the diva walked out to begin the program. Just as the accompanist was about to start playing, the diva, leaned across the piano and hissed in a stage whisper “Don’t play too loud.” Taking a moment to recover from being startled by the outburst, the accompanist was just about to start again, when the diva leaned across the piano again and hissed “But don’t play too soft.”
While that story doesn’t speak specifically about phlegm, it does speak about something directly related to it; balance. While it’s pretty much there all the time, the only times you notice phlegm, mucus, snot or whatever you want to call it, is when you have either too little or too much of it.
Phlegm is the axle grease of the human body
Phlegm protects your nasal passages, throat and vocal folds by trapping all sorts of things keeps it from interfering with the works and it keeps them lubricated so things don’t get irritated or grind and cause more damage. The big difference is that a car doesn’t produce its own axle grease. The body does and because of that, it also has to get rid of it on a regular basis. That’s usually done by absorbing it or expelling it (yeah, I don’t want to know what you’re thinking right now). If that gets out of balance, then there’s trouble usually. You don’t want too much and you don’t want too little (Hello diva!).
Whenever the seasons change, I tend to have an issue especially when the weather turns colder. That also tends to coincide with one of my busiest singing times of the year. If I get out of balance, then I can be sick through the entire season and that’s neither good nor fun.
So what can you do?
I start doing a daily Saline flush
I know some people use this as a last resort when they’re so congested they can barely breathe or they have a really bad case of post nasal drip that leads to what I call the “Naso-Pharynx of Fire”. I use it to flush the system and give it a fresh slate to do it’s work. I know it sounds gross to a lot of people, but it’s very similar to gargling with warm salt water (same principle). It cleanses the nasal passages without prohibiting production of more phlegm; giving a good base for the body from which to work. Once you’re used to the process, it can be pretty soothing too.
There are two main ways to do this: a Neti pot, which uses gravity to circulate the Saline through your nasal passages and a squeeze bottle, which combines gravity with the force the fluid as you squeeze the bottle. You should figure out what works best for you, but always be careful and read all instructions first. There are specific ways to use these flushing techniques and you need to know what you’re doing before you do it. If it’s done right, it’s a very good thing and if it’s not, you can easily damage yourself, so be careful. It takes a little getting used to.
Yes, you’ve heard that you should drink water, but or the most part, as long as you’re drinking something, you’re hydrating. I’m not going to give you a set amount of fluid to drink in a day, you can figure that out by paying attention to how you feel. You might have to focus on that or a bit until it becomes a habit, but if you feel dry, drink something.
The exception are fluids that dry you out or make your vocal folds feel thick. That can vary from person to person, but things like red wine, caffeinated drinks (yes, that means a ton of those energy drinks), heavy sugary drinks and even milk. It all depends on you, but you know what affects you in which way, so be smart about it. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of remembering (Oh yeah, I’m singing for six hours tomorrow, maybe I shouldn’t drink red wine tonight).
Just some things that I do and make my habits to keep it all in balance and my phlegm friendly. I’ll talk about some other things that can have an affect on this, but aren’t directly related to this topic in future posts.
Up next: Protecting your energy.