Dear Doctor Jahn,
Would you say that water is the closest thing we have to a “cure-all” when it comes to singing? I mean, I do a lot of singing in bars and clubs and I drink a LOT of water and I really haven’t had issues that other questioners have (hoarseness, sore-throats etc.)
Since our bodies are over 90% water, it would make sense that staying wet will allow our bodies to function optimally. I normally recommend eight – 8 oz glasses of water a day, but this should be increased if you are exercising and perspiring. Water is the common currency of our cells, both inside and out, and it is the main vehicle for our circulation; it allows for the exchange of nutrients and the elimination of wastes. Specifically, from the singer’s point of view, the vocal folds need to be both hydrated from the inside, and lubricated on their surface. This allows them to move more easily, approximate more exactly, and, most important, it reduces trauma to the mucous membranes.
You know that when you ice skate, your blades actually slide on a very thin layer of water, which is ice that has been melted by the weight of your body pushing down on the skates. Similarly, when singing, especially in the high range, the vocal folds make contact through a thin film of water. If this layer of water is missing or inadequate, due to lack of hydration, the mucous membranes rub against each other, causing inflammation, swelling and possible injury.
The other good thing about drinking so much water during your gigs is that you are drinking less coffee and alcohol! Both of these drinks dehydrate your body, and increase the likelihood of trauma to the dried mucous membrane surface. So keep drinking water, and sing on!
-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).