By Lori Ellen Sutton, MA, CCC-SLP
Many singers use alternative medicine therapy, such as vitamins, herbal supplements, and throat sprays to help their voices, especially if they have a cold or upper respiratory infection. With April Fool’s Day just around the corner, let’s talk about some of the seemingly “foolish” things singers do and whether they are beneficial for the voice.
Vitamins, Herbs, and Supplements – Oh My! Production of vitamins, herbs, and “natural supplements” is not regulated in the same way as production of medications. Herbs may have side effects or interfere with how prescribed medications work. They can also use any part of the plant they claim to include. Depending upon the manufacturer, products may be mixed with other substances such as water, alcohol, or solvents. With vitamins and minerals, balance is key. Having either too much or too little of a particular vitamin or mineral in your system may impact body functioning, leading to unwanted side effects or complications.
Remedies for Dryness: Some of the most popular “remedies” singers employ include honey, slippery elm, and oral and pharyngeal moisturizers (such as sprays and teas). Honey relieves irritation of the mucus membranes in the mouth by forming a protective film. Some research has shown it has potential anti-inflammatory effects on cutaneous wounds, as well as cough suppression benefits in children. However, this has not been studied in the adult population. Slippery elm bark is a component of various lozenges and teas (i.e. Throat Coat tea) that contains a substance that can create a coating on structures and gives the sensation of increased lubrication or moisture. However, some people feel it increases the sensation of mucus.
Gargling and Sinus Flushing/Nasal Rinsing: These tactics have long been employed for everything including “exfoliating” the vocal folds, loosening the throat, rinsing out or killing bacteria, and lubricating the throat/vocal folds. Gargled substances do not actually get into the larynx or touch the vocal folds, otherwise you would choke. So, claims of exfoliating and hydrating the vocal folds with gargling are false. There is some evidence, though, that gargling the correct recipe of ingredients may help reduce symptoms of upper respiratory illness. Sinus flushing/nasal rinsing can be beneficial during a cold or allergy episode, but when used for more than 10 days it may actually rinse away beneficial mucus from the sinus/nasal passages.
Throat Sprays: Sprays like Entertainer’s Secret, Singer’s Saving Grace, Vocal-Eze and the like are often used as an antidote for dryness or irritation. Again, nothing that you swallow or spray into your mouth actually comes in contact with your vocal folds. Some studies say there might be a placebo effect, and others say there’s no harm in singers using them if they see a benefit. However, you still might want to see a doctor to try and directly address a particular source of irritation.
Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar: Lemon is thought to have some antibacterial properties, but no specific research is available on whether it maintains or improves vocal health. Likewise, no significant data shows benefits of using apple cider vinegar to address a sore throat, reduce inflammation, or treat acid reflux. Anyone who experiences acid reflux should consider the potential impact of consuming these products before ingesting them, particularly in larger quantities.
Scarves: Singer’s will often wear scarves (sometimes year-round) to protect their throats from cold or other elements. They look cute and they will certainly keep you warm, but there is no data that either refutes or supports the notion that scarves play any significant role in protecting the throat from external elements.
While some of the silly-looking things singers do can be helpful, some may be counterproductive, and some may have no effect. To avoid making “foolish” choices about caring for your voice, always talk with your physician and/or pharmacist about any medications, vitamins, or supplements you take. Additionally, do your research! Knowing the potential risks and benefits of these practices can not only help you make wise choices, but may keep you from wasting money.
Lori Ellen Sutton is a Voice & Swallowing Specialist in CEENTA’s SouthPark office. Do you have voice concerns? Call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
[l1]Luke, in the blog, please link to my previous blog post “How Phonating Through a Straw Can Save Your Vocal Folds”