Can We (cough, hack) Talk?

by | Nov 24, 2008 | Advice

Look out!…has it already struck your household?…your workplace?

Are you washing your hands?

Didja get a flu shot?

About this season, voice actors everywhere begin to frantically trade old-wives’ remedies for sore throat, swollen glands, and stuffy noses like they’re baseball cards.

A subscriber to one of the VO forums has already posed the question, and gotten several immediate answers.

Read below to see the litany of suggestions.  Maybe something there will work for you.

The post that got the whole thing started:

As I go through my VO day, I notice that more and more I get a phlegm build up that seems to hang right on my vocal chords. It actually raises the pitch in my voice a noticeable level. The only way I’ve found that I can clear it, is by some pretty aggressive ‘throat clearing’. Problem of course being that aggressive clearing is bad for my  throat … and it’s only good for a couple of paragraphs and it’s back.

Is there any thing out there (home remedies, throat sprays …moonshine ) anyone can recommend to solve this problem? Anybody out there even have this problem?


Don’t know how old you are, buy we used to gargle with salt
water. Works to a degree…. it clears the throat of the phlegm, but salt is an astringent..
.. trust me…. you will feel the after-effects.

For about twenty years, voice/speech teachers have been experimenting with a different combination. Here’s how it works:

Mix into an 8 ounce glass of luke warm water…. 8 drops of Tobasco
sauce. Stir. Gargle and spit. Gargle and spit. Then drink and
swallow regular water.

First thing to realize is that at this solution level, you may taste the
Tobasco sauce, but you will NOT “experience” it’s hotness.

You will notice that most of that phlegm has been cleared from the back
of the soft palate and all the way down past the the vocal chords to the

But there is a another medical benefit. The key ingredient in Tobasco
sauce that provides the “hotness” is Capsaicin. But this ingredient
is  also used in pain neuropathy. It tends to reduce inflammation of
damaged tissues and nerve endings. And therefore…

. it reduces the
tendency to cough or to clear one’s throat.

{Well, I hadn’t heard THAT one before, but I gotta admit, it sounds compelling}


1) Stop any and all dairy – it’s the first thing to clog you
2) some swear by apples – not sure I have had much success
3) Singers Saving Grace – at your health food store – a God send

{all that makes sense, too…I’d heard about the apples, but never hoid of “Singers Saving Grace”.  The next respondent is Bill Smith, an acting coach in Denver whom I respect, and he REALLY digs into the answer}


(Stop any and all dairy – it’s the first thing to clog you up)

1) Absolutely correct. Milk and other dairy products do tend to coat the throat with lactates which encourage the production of mucous. But one should also avoid drinking anything with caffeine which tends to dehydrate. The ONLY things I drink on the day of a session are water or decaf green or herbal teas.

(some swear by apples – not sure I have had much success)

2) I don’t know if it’s a wives tale or not. I have been told that Granny Smith green apples are the best for cleansing the palate. They are slightly tart, so I tend to avoid them. But I have a small supply in my fridge that I sometimes resort to before a session. I tend to eat very lightly before a session…. fruits and veggies. After the session, if I did “good”, I’ll treat myself with naughty foods. <g>

(Singers Saving Grace – at your health food store – a God send)

3) I’ve spotted this product in stores which carry similar herbal products, like Slippery Elm. Problem with herbal products is that they are not regulated or tested under FDA rules and regs. And you never know what the ingredients include, and rarely do you find out about side effects. But on your recommendation, I might buy a supply and try it out.  Problem is that I rarely suffer from congestion. Good genes? or maybe  because I regularly do nasal irrigation and that tobasco sauce gargle solution I posted the other day. (And by the way, someone wrote me privately on this matter…. so I want to clarify that these two homeopathic remedies don not CURE the disease, they simply relieve the nasty symptoms long enough to get through a session….)

{to which the original poster responded postively, then said}

“I’ve also started taking Zyrtec on a regular basis and
that’s helped a bunch too.”

{Bill had a great suggestion about that, though…}

Problem I have with, Randy, with Cetirizine hydrochloride, a
key ingredient in Zyrtec, is that it is an antihistamine. Which tends to dehydrate the body. So yeah, is clears out the crappy stuff…. for a
while….. all that phlegm, But it also dehydrates those delicate tissues involved with effective voice production.

Look at it this way…. you will tend to cough a lot at either extremes…. when you have too much mucous, or when you have a dry throat. The body is trying to achieve a balance.

{Finally, Bettye Zoller chimed in to say she’ll be doing a podcast today (11-24-08) on the subject, and it will clear up some misconceptions.  ‘Might want to check it out.  Oh, and for a congested nose and/or sinues, I keep hearing about the Neti Pot.  I don’t have one, but I know voice actors who swear by them.}




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