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Well, it’s happened.  My worst actor nightmare – I’ve got a cold.  I hate getting sick in the middle of a run.  Truthfully, if it were only a stuffy nose and a cough, I’d be okay.  It’s the sore throat that I hate, and the possibility of losing my voice.  Unfortunately, a lot of over-the-counter cold medicines contain chemicals and alcohol that dry out your mucus membranes, and one of those membranes happens to be your vocal folds, which is death to an actor’s voice.  I learned that lesson the hard way a few years back.  I used a nasal spray before a show to control my drippy, stuffy nose, and promptly lost my voice twenty minutes into the show.  So I’ve experienced the nightmare of losing my voice onstage, and I don’t want it to ever happen again.

I’ve become smarter over the years, and built up an arsenal of natural remedies that don’t affect the voice.

  • Water – This is the single best thing for a cold.  Drink as much water as you can.  It thins out mucus and keeps you throat wet (so that it doesn’t get scratchy from being dry).  Also, keep a humidifier running in your bedroom at night while you sleep, and about three times a day, inhale steam (pour boiling water into a bowl, tent a towel over your head and inhale for about 10 minutes).
  • Honey – I swallow a tablespoon of honey to soothe a sore throat.  It doesn’t contain alcohol like many commercial throat syrups, and has anti-bacterial properties.
  • A Gentle Hum – I learned this trick from the Voice Intensive last spring.  If you feel like you are starting to lose your voice, hum.  It is impossible to hum too loud, and it will stretch and relax your rapidly swelling vocal folds.  Very helpful.
  • Neti Pot –Ahhh, the nose bath!  The only thing that brings relief of a stuffy nose for me.  I use a prepared saline mixture to make sure it doesn’t burn (don’t use straight tap water – ouch!)
  • Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine – For me, this always brings gentle, yet rapid relief.  I find that even one treatment and a day of herbal medicine has me nearly back to normal.  I book an appointment as soon as I feel my first symptom.
  • Sleep – Rest, rest, and more rest.

And that’s about all I do for a cold.  I’ve tried other things like Vitamin C, Oil of Oregano, Echinacea, Cold Fx, and Zinc lozenges, but I find they don’t make much difference for me.

It’s embarrassing and annoying to perform with a cold, but it’s not like I decided to get sick, so the only thing to do is weather it through.  Usually, only two or three performances are affected really badly, and then the worst part is over.  It’s important to remember that it happens to everyone – even the best actors get sick from time to time.

What do you do to treat a cold?  Any tips or tricks?

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