Singing is a common issue for beginners because they haven’t quite mastered the technique of protecting their voice. Even those who have been singing for years can still get the occasional sore throat. It happens to the best of us, and here’s why.
A sore throat after singing is caused by vocal strain and inflammation. This is most commonly caused by dehydration or not warming up your voice beforehand. It can also be caused by singing beyond your vocal range, singing too loudly, or eating the wrong types of foods before you sing.
If you find this is happening when you sing, there are ways you can soothe your voice so that you’re better in time for your next performance. There are also a number of ways to prevent you from getting a sore throat in the first place, all of which you can find below.
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Why Your Throat Hurts When You Sing
If you are dehydrated, your vocal cords will become dry. Your vocal cords stretch and vibrate when you sing and are usually moist. If the vocal cords become dry, they are more likely to get tiny tears in them.
Imagine tortilla bread. If the moisture is still in the bread, it is quite flexible, and you can wrap up your fillings into a roll. If that same tortilla is left in the sun, it becomes dry and will crack when you try to wrap it up.
Micro-tears in your vocal cords will then cause swelling in the area, as this is your body’s natural response to healing damage. This swelling, as well as the small tears, will give you the sensation of a sore throat.
This can be prevented by drinking enough water throughout the day. The daily recommended intake is eight cups of water. Ideally, if you are singing, you should have one cup every 30 minutes. In addition to this, it takes approximately three hours for the water to hydrate your vocal cords, so make sure you drink regularly up to three hours before you sing.
You may even place a humidifier in your bedroom or use a steamer before you sing to keep just your throat warm and hydrated. This is fine if you can continue this up until you perform, but it is more of a temporary ‘quick fix.’ If your body is still dehydrated, your vocal cords will dry out again quickly.
If you would like to try a humidifier or steamer, you can find them on Amazon or your local pharmacy.
Drink water throughout the day
1 cup every 30 minutes
2. Forgetting to Warm Up
Warm-ups are essential if you want to protect your voice. It is too easy to strain without them.
Warming up your voice stretches the muscles involved in singing. These muscles are responsible for stretching and vibrating the vocal cords, and if they are cold and stiff, they will not move as freely.
This is similar to a runner preparing for a sprint or a marathon. They perform a number of stretches before the event so that they can run faster, longer, and avoid injuring themselves.
If you sing while the muscles in your throat are still cold and stiff, they will fatigue much quicker and will be more prone to strain. Strain refers to micro-damage within the muscles. This will cause swelling and a sore throat.
For the sake of preventing damage to your voice, warm-ups can be as simple as singing through scales before you perform. This should be done for approximately 10-15 minutes beforehand. There are many great warm-ups to choose from.
Even if you are planning only to practice your song, it is still important to warm up if you want to reduce the risk of getting a sore throat. If you do forget to warm up, take a look at this article for tips to prevent damage to your voice.
Warm-up your voice for
10-15 minutes before singing
3. Singing Beyond Your Vocal Range
Most singers will know their vocal range, which is the upper and lower limits of your voice. If you do not know your range, this is something that is easy to find out. It is an important thing to know as a singer.
Once you know what your vocal range is, you will know the highest and lowest notes that you can comfortably sing. This range is determined by the strength and flexibility of the muscles in your throat.
When you sing beyond your range, you are stretching these muscles further than they have stretched before and working them harder. If the muscles that stretch and vibrate your vocal cords are put under this stress, they are more likely to tear.
Tearing in this situation can range from micro-tears to complete rupture, depending on how far you push your voice and how strong the muscles were to begin with. Micro-tears, as we know, cause swelling and a sore throat.
It is rare to rupture your vocal cords, but still possible. Just like a dancer can rupture a muscle, so can a singer. This is much more serious than a sore throat and would need urgent medical attention.
Preventing a sore throat in this instance simply involves singing within your comfortable range. If you feel you are limited, there are vocal exercises you can do to increase your range so that you have more flexibility.
Only sing within your vocal range
4. Singing Too Loudly
There are many reasons we might push ourselves to sing louder than our voice can handle. You might be singing without a microphone. You might be singing in a group and are told you need to sing louder to blend better. Or you might be trying to go for a powerful finish by belting out that last high note. Whatever it is, if you sing louder than your voice is trained for, you are going to cause damage.
It’s true that you can train yourself to sing louder, but this takes time and practice. So if you’re straining your voice to sing at a particular volume, you’re probably singing louder than you should be. It should feel comfortable.
When you sing too loudly, you force an excess amount of air out of your lungs, pushing against the resistance of your vocal cords. If the muscles in this area aren’t strong enough to withstand such force, your vocal cords will slap together. This, over time, will cause swelling and pain.
To prevent this, you can sing with less volume. If you still want power in your voice, there are other vocal techniques you can use. A great technique singers use is mixing their chest voice (talking voice) with their head voice (breathy sounds). This technique adds twang to the notes.
You can test this by singing a high note with an ‘ah’ sound. Now sing the same note, but with ‘meow’ instead. If done correctly, you should notice the ‘meow’ sound produces a clearer, more powerful note. This is because that particular sound forces you to use that bit of twang in your voice.
Don’t sing too loud
Try adding twang instead
5. Eating the Wrong Type of Foods Before Singing
There are some unspoken rules when it comes to eating before you sing. This doesn’t mean you have to give up these foods, but they should be avoided on the day of the performance.
Dairy products are a big one. Foods such as cheese, yogurt, or milk are all known to cause mucous buildup in the throat. Not only will this clog the throat and make it harder to sing clearly, but you will be tempted to clear your throat. Clearing your throat is abrasive to the vocal cords, causing swelling and pain. If you do need to clear your throat, it is better to swallow instead.
Fatty foods, such as deep-fried food, can also cause mucous in your throat. Therefore they have a similar effect to eating dairy products.
Caffeine and alcohol will also cause problems. They are examples of a diuretic, meaning that they make you dehydrated. As with not drinking enough water, this causes your vocal cords to dry out. Vocal cords need moisture to prevent trauma and swelling. This is very hard when you need that coffee to keep you going.
Cold drinks, including cold water, will constrict your throat. The muscles in your throat will become stiff and strained, much like all your other muscles on a cold winters’ morning. If you have been warming up your voice with vocal exercises, it will undo your hard work.
To prevent damage to your throat from becoming dry, constricted or full of mucous, you may want to refrain from these foods. Instead, try to stick with a more traditional meal of bread, meat, and vegetables.
You can find a dedicated article on which foods singers should avoid here.
On the day you are singing, avoid
dairy, caffeine, fatty foods, and cold drinks
How to Soothe Your Sore Throat After Singing
Soothing your sore throat from singing is tied in closely to the reasons why your throat is painful in the first place. Ultimately, if you rest your voice, your body will heal itself. But here are some suggestions to help speed things up and keep you comfortable:
- Vocal rest. You should avoid singing and talking until you feel as though you are fully recovered. This will prevent irritating things further. If you do need to talk, try not to whisper as this strains the voice.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water regularly every day. You can also use a humidifier in your bedroom to keep your throat moist overnight.
- Eat honey. Honey is a natural wound-healing agent, so swallowing a teaspoon of this liquid gold, or having it in tea, will help ease the pain and speed up your recovery.
- Suck on lozenges. These may help soothe your sore throat but will also help prevent your throat from drying out. A trusted and natural brand you might want to try is Vocalzone (link to Amazon).
- Avoid foods that are bad for your throat. These are all listed above.
- Try not to clear your throat. As I mentioned before, this will further irritate your throat. Try to swallow instead.
If you keep these things in mind, you will be all set to go for your next performance once you recover. If you have a performance scheduled before you have time to recover, here are some tips to get you through, including more ways to soothe your throat. It's not recommended to sing while you have a sore throat (or cold), but sometimes you may have no choice.