Signs of mucus-laden vocal cords:You may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- On the low end, you can't sing clearly... there is an uncontrolled buzz in the sound, sort of like when you leave a pick in the neck of a guitar and try to play it (ask me how I know!)
- In the middle of your range, your voice just doesn't seem to be able to get into that beautiful sweet spot 'mix' you know you're capable of, so you feel like you have to push harder to reach notes.
- You may notice some weird 'glitches' - certain notes that you can't seem to sing smoothly through.
- You have trouble in your head voice, too... you know it shouldn't be that hard to hit the top of your range.
- You cough a little, gunk shifts and clears somewhat, but you can't cough enough to stay clear.
- Trying to sustain a long note that is normally easy for you to float out there becomes as uncontrolled as if you were singing over speed bumps.
- Your tone isn't as bell-like and brilliant.. it's more like singing through a wet sock.
- Again, sounding your voice isn't painful (which might make you suspect vocal cord damage of some kind), it just doesn't work like you know it should.
Every voice needs a little 'phlegm'The vocal cords need a thin, healthy layer of mucus to operate best. The covering of the cords is called a mucous membrane (note the different spelling - mucus is a noun, mucous is an adjective). The movement of the cords (folds) which creates soundwaves is called the mucosal wave for heaven's sake! But when this layer gets too thick, it can interfere with the vibration and control of the vocal cords. AHHH ... what can you do???
Tips to thin out vocal cord mucus...
- My personal magical go-too for irritated cords is water with a little pineapple juice (1 part juice to 3 or 4 parts water).
- Water with fresh lemon juice plus cayenne pepper (one of my sisters calls this 'firewater').
- Ginger tea (steep grated or thinly sliced fresh ginger root in hot water, add lemon juice.)
- Try hot herbal teas, but avoid black or green tea or caffeinated drinks which can dehydrate and thicken that mucus right back up.
Also hydrate yourself externally... inhale steam.
Try avoiding mucus-promoting foods such as milk products, eggs, foods you have trouble digesting well and heavy meals in general. Up your intake of watery foods, fruits, non-starchy vegetables. Understand however that different people react differently to foods; keep a journal and NOTICE what tends to increase your phlegm. Watch eating chocolate before performance... I've noticed that it causes my vocal cord phlegm to increase!
- CHECK YOUR DIET
If it's allergies stirring up your mucus, you simply must address the root of your problems. Lots of successful strategies for dealing with allergies help significantly with vocal cord phlegm.
- DEAL WITH ALLERGIES
With careful, correctly executed and gradually more strenuous vocal exercises, literally vibrate some mucus loose from your cords. This may mean your voice gets worse before it gets better at the end of your vocal warmup. You should take a little more time than usual to get your voice warmed up before singing full volume. I encourage my students to 'shake the frogs off and drown them (usually with diluted pineapple juice!)
- DO LONGER VOCAL WARMUPS
You can find free downloadable vocal recovery exercises at my blogpost on laryngitis.
Move around physically, too... aerobic exercise can help move mucus on out.
CAUTION: If in doubt, check it out... with a doctor!If you are blowing or coughing yellow or green or have any indications that your mucous formation could be due to a bacterial or fungal infection, make the appointment today - see a medical doctor. That goes for signs of serious acid reflux as well. In persistent cases of excessive phlegm you might want to get your vocal cords scoped at a dedicated medical voice center.
Using a Neti Pot or other nasal irrigation device at bedtime and in the morning can really thin out and dilute mucus secretions from above your vocal cords, as well as soothe throat tissues. The important thing is to get the saline solution right, so follow directions! Also... be sure to use clean water.
- TRY NATURAL REMEDIES
There are herbs, essential oils and other alternative remedies for dealing with counterproductive amounts of mucus. As with medical doctors, I recommend going to a professional in the alternative health arena so you don't self-medicate without good information.
Some of my students have been tremendously helped by lymph drainage massage such as demonstrated in this Youtube video by Heather Wibbels, LMT :
DO NOT...... cough hard or repeatedly. Coughing is a great way to get laryngitis!
... drink alcohol or smoke. Duh.
... don't abuse your already unhappy vocal cords in any way, whether speaking or singing!
... over-dry your vocal cords with over-the-counter medications. In Voice Council Magazine, Dr. Tom Harris, London's renown retired ENT surgeon recommends against decongestants and antihistamines for singers and speakers because they dehydrate and thicken the mucus too much, except for asthma and allergic conditions. Then try antihistamines but monitor the drying effect on your voice before taking them for performance.
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OK what about you... ever feel like you are about to drown in phlegm? What worked/ didn't work?