When I get sick, I typically drink a shot of Grand Marnier to warm things up. Seems to work ok, but I’m wondering if I’m doing damage from this practice? Is there a better, quicker remedy for getting through a rough night?
Certainly a small amount of alcohol should not be harmful, everything else being normal. Gargling with port has been passed down anecdotally as a good warm-up used by old-time British actors. My guess is that the gargle was usually followed by a swallow…
Alcohol has numerous effects which may be helpful in your situation. First, it is a peripheral vasodilator; this means it increases the circulation to your mucous membranes, as well as your skin (manifesting as facial flushing). Taken in excess, it could potentially cause some swelling of the throat but, again, a small amount should be fine. If “getting sick” in your case refers to an upper respiratory tract infection, remember that you already have some swelling in the vocal tract, and further relaxing the blood vessels in this area could increase that swelling.
Second, alcohol is slightly dis-inhibiting, and can help to calm any performance anxiety. Once more, larger amounts can impair your artistic judgment, but quantity is the key here. A couple of words of caution: alcohol in larger quantities is a diuretic, and can leave your vocal folds dry and more vulnerable. It can also act as an anaesthetic, and blunt the throat’s warning signs when you potentially over-sing.
But you do have good taste! You could be gargling with Bulmer’s Woodpecker cider!
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).