Some advice for language teachers, coaches, sales-professionals or any other type of work relying heavily on voice.
How to save your voice as a language teacher: Getting sick in Autumn
The changing of Summer to Winter is a very common time to get sick. We often don’t dress warmly enough when we go out, perhaps because we’re in denial that Summer is over, and we start staying inside more, increasing our physical contact with other people and allowing germs to spread more easily.
One of the biggest problems with being sick and having to teach is saving your voice. With head colds and sinus infections, the inflamed sinuses can drip infected mucous down the back of your throat, inflaming your larynx and making it easy to lose your voice. This is almost as bad as actually having a sore throat, where the larynx itself is directly infected and inflamed.
Coughing is another symptom that is very hard, sometimes dangerous, on the voice. The vocal chords are bashed together with every cough, inflaming the chords and making the whole esophagus red and swollen. Having to teach in this condition will almost guarantee loss of vocal quality. (The golden rule for singers is: if you’re coughing, don’t sing under any circumstances. To do so could lead to permanent damage to your voice.)
If you have something like laryngitis or tonsillitis, then it’s probably time to stay in bed and not speak/teach at all. If the sickness is targeted directly at the voice, it’s likely there’s nothing you can do but rest and wait.
What to do
The best thing to do when teaching while sick is to keep the larynx area lubricated and hydrated. The vocal chords are only small, thin, moist membranes, which if dehydrated or infected, become swollen with use (swollen vocal chords means the voice is croaky or hoarse. The more swelling, the more hoarse.)
You should definitely lubricate and hydrate your larynx and vocal chords in an indirect manner, by sipping 2-3 liters of still water throughout the day. You can also directly lubricate your larynx by constantly sucking on a lozenge while speaking. Gelo Revoice is a fabulous (but not cheap) lozenge that really lubricates the whole area. Riccola sweets and Emser Pastillen will also suffice and are cheaper. (Go for sugar-free to save your teeth.) Basically anything that generates more saliva will help. If you suck lozenges the whole time during lessons it will help reduce further swelling of your vocal chords, which is what will happen when you teach sick.
You can also directly hydrate your actual vocal chords before and after teaching by breathing in steam. This will help protect them from further swelling when they’re inflamed from sickness. The best way to do this is by filling a bowl with 2 liters of boiling water, wrapping a hand towel around the bowl, making a funnel at the top (big enough for the mouth only), and breathing in the steam through your mouth for 15 minutes at a time. The steam itself is enough; don’t add anything to the water (like menthol) and be careful not to burn your mouth.
All 3 of these methods are recommended by Ear, Nose and Throat doctors to professional voice users, who have to work while sick. If you aren’t sick but perhaps have been talking/teaching too much, your vocal chords are likely also to be swollen, and you could also carry out the above suggestions.
As a general vocal health tip when teaching, never underestimate the importance of breathing properly before speaking, and with good posture. If your voice (or body) is tired, concentrate on breathing deeply (to your belly) before speaking, which is best done with a supported, upright posture (and not slumped.)