I just received a question regarding sinus problems and the voice, so here is some information on medicines and more importantly, exercises to heal the voice.
Sinusitis can greatly affect your voice, but you can still speak and sing if you warm up the voice with special exercises. Singing actually helps sinusitis. The inflammation in the sinuses can go all the way down to your upper respiratory system and keep the vocal cords swollen. If you have excess post-nasal drip, it can also irritate your vocal cords. Mucinex is a wonderful medicine for sinusitis. The active ingredient is guaifenesin, which is derived from the guaiac tree, and was used as a generic remedy by American indigenous peoples when explorers reached North America in the 16th century. Guaifenesin thins the mucus, without drying the throat like antihistamines, so more mucus is absorbed in the blood stream and there is less mucus to irritate the sinuses and throat. According to modern medicine guaifenesin is thought to act as an expectorant by increasing the volume and reducing the viscosity of secretions in the trachea and bronchi. It also stimulates the flow of respiratory tract secretions, allowing ciliary movement to carry the loosened secretions upward toward the pharynx.
Natural remedies work as well. In Chinese traditional medicine, phlegm results from too much “damp” in the body and warming herbs are recommended. In Ayurvedic medicine phlegm would be seen as a disorder of kapha and treated with warming, drying herbs as well. Warming spices like ginger, cayenne, cinnamon and cardamom are wonderful for reducing mucus in the body. Goldenseal is one of the best herbs for treating the sinuses, as well as goldenrod, eyebright and elderflower. These herbs can help stop sinus congestion from turning into a sinus infection. Echinacea root is fantastic for upper respiratory tract issues. Garlic and onion are also excellent anti-phlegmatic foods to be added to your meals. One thing to keep in mind regarding herbs, if you have hay fever or pollen induced allergies; some of these herbs can actually induce more mucus and an allergic response. Many herbs used for medicinal purposes are also weeds and if you are allergic to weeds, you may have problems instead of benefits from these herbs. Rinsing the sinuses with saline water is very beneficial but be careful of the nedipot if you have severe sinus problems as it can allow too much water to flow into the sinuses and actually further irritate them. If you have any favorite remedies, feel free to add them here.
EXERCISES FOR AN IRRITATED VOICE:
Proper technique is super important when you have sinus problems. If your speech is not affected by your sinus problems, then I would begin by slowly transitioning from speech to singing. Speak a phrase, then sing-speak the phrase and finally sing the phrase. Singing is a direct extension of the speaking voice, if you are adding any tension to the throat or body when you sing, it will be evident when you go from speech to singing.
Also, humming exercises are excellent for the voice as well as the sinuses. Humming phonation is used by speech pathologists to heal the voice. So much so that many speech pathologists use a type of speech therapy called “Resonant Voice Therapy,” created by Katherine Verdolini, based on the work of Arthur Lessac. Voice scientists have found that using a resonant voice takes stress off the vocal cords and is especially useful in training speakers and singers with voice problems.
When we hum, the voice comes in contact with the roof of the mouth creating a resonating cavity in the mouth and vibrating the sinuses. By using the roof of the mouth as a focus for the voice, tension is pulled out of the larynx and the vocal cords are allowed to vibrate freely. The vocal cords are a small reed that are only to be used as a vibrator and never as the power source for the voice. If you feel any engagement in the muscles of the throat, than you are trying to sing in the throat instead of using the mouth as the resonator. The throat is just a hallway to the mouth cavity that should be kept open and relaxed in singing. How do we find our resonant voice? Through the use of the nasal consonants in the English language, we can improve our vocal tone. Voice trainers discovered that, by sounding on the consonants [m], [n] and [ng], singers and speakers will feel vibrations in the face. If you hum the nasal consonants, they make the voice vibrate against the hard palate of the mouth, which then radiates sympathetic vibrations into the bones of the face. Many old Italian singing treatises have called this “singing in the mask of the face,” and most people feel vibration in the bones across their sinuses, the nose and the forehead, in a sort of “mask” area.
Why do we feel the bones in our face vibrate? Stick your thumb in your mouth and rest it on the roof of your mouth. Now hum a tone close to the pitch you normally speak on and feel with your thumb the vibrations on the roof of your mouth. Try a lower tone. You should feel the whole roof of your mouth vibrating. These vibrations of sound hitting your hard palate will continue outwards, into the bones of your face and sooth the sinuses.
Here are some exercises:
Hum on an M and then hum speak the following short phrases. Then try singing the phrases making sure the hum goes through the whole length of the phrase. You will produce your healthiest vocal sound as well as your most beautiful sound.
Money money money
Mime mime mime
Many minions mingle
Nime nime nime
Gnomes live in Nome
Mary mooches Mona’s money
Mom made marmalade
My oh my, Minnie’s moody
Merry monkeys march madly
Marshmallows mostly melt
Gnomes live in Nome