In the last 2-3 months, I’ve worked with a number of clients online and spoken with a number of people who have had coronavirus/Covid-19 (either tested positive for, or strongly suspected to have had). While none of these cases have been hospitalised, all have experienced quite severe upper respiratory symptoms that have lingered for quite some time. In working with these voices, certain patterns are beginning to emerge in relation to how this virus affects the voice.
But before we get going…
DISCLAIMER: The following is my anecdotal opinion and should not be considered a definitive medical finding. I am not a medical professional, nor am I seeking to provide medical advice. Anything contained in this article should not be construed as such.
This article is intended as a preliminary discussion on patterns I have noticed in the last 2-3 months in relation to my voice teaching practice, specifically in relation to those who have/are suspected to have contracted coronavirus/Covid-19. I also reserve the right to update this article with any new developments/re-evaluations that are encountered as the situation progresses.
Let’s look at Covid-19 data through the lens of a singer/voice user
– Covid-19 has a bewildering array of potential symptoms, but is fundamentally defined by being a respiratory tract infection.
– It can affect your upper respiratory tract (sinuses, nose, and throat) or lower respiratory tract (windpipe and lungs).
– The virus enters and develops by attaching itself to the cells of the respiratory tract, infecting the tissue thereof and developing from there.
– In terms of vocally related symptoms, loss of energy/fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches (connected with upper respiratory infection), cough and (importantly) mucus/phlegm are also less common but statistically relevant side-effects of the virus. I mention these irrespective of severity of the infection.
NOTE: The combination of headaches associated with respiratory tract issues, plus mucus/phlegm etc (coupled with the arrival of spring) MAY be confused with the onset of hayfever (and even then, exacerbated by this).
What does this mean for singers
1. Inflammation of the vocal tract (i.e. their throat)
This has been far the biggest issue I’ve encountered with singers recovering from Covid. Honestly, I cannot overstate how severe the impact to people’s vocal tracts has been.
I’ve discussed in many articles the critical nature of being able to shape the vocal tract precisely for vowel control. For those recovering from Covid, their control has been completely thrown out the window and slow to return for weeks – in some cases we are talking over six weeks worth of slowly crawling their way back to more normal vocal function.
Various news sources (e.g. the Financial Times) has also featured discussions on the surprising duration of such symptoms of Covid, and it’s left a lot of the medical establishment astounded as to the bizarre nature of this illness,
It’s the respiratory inflammation and tissue damage in the vocal tract which means singers cannot precisely shape their instrument. This results in the instrumen feeling heavy and sluggish. It also means what would normally feel like a well-oiled machine very coarse to operate, and seems to take brute force effort to make work.
When singers find it hard to recognise that their instrument is in this handicapped state but continue with the brute force approach (on an already injured instrument) it generally leads to further damage or prolonging of the original damage.
2. Mucus/phlegm on the vocal folds (typically involves swelling)
This is more evidently an issue for people’s voices. When your voice feels mucousy/phlegmy you know you’re likely to be struggling. The thing is this typically is accompanied by swelling in the folds also. This in turn leads to imprecise operation, and can also lead to singers forcing their voice for notes when it’s already swollen.
I don’t need to linger on this point as most recognise their voice isn’t right when it’s phlegmy/crackling, or feeling heavy etc. Sufficed to say, this is another issue that has been thrown up.
3. Low energy for working through these issues.
Turns out, singing takes energy and effort! And to re-build voices where damage has occurred, takes highly repetitious but very careful and precise work to remedy and return the voice to normal. The lingering fatigue that lasts for weeks in some cases means it’s very hard to perform this kind of work and sustain it for long periods. This in turn makes the rehab work relatively slow going.
The lingering effects of this virus (even in the moderate/mild cases) are not to be understated. For all the people mentioned at the outset of this article, they’ve had some time recovering from (at worst) an illness that seems like just a bad chest infection, before embarking on a longer than expected road of recovery to the damage that was done to their instrument.
Rest assured the damage is not permanent, and completely fixable with the right tools, but it is one hell of an unexpected “off-road” experience for those who find their voice hit in this way.
Learn More: Related Articles
If you’d like to learn more about what good vocal function involves, check out these related articles:
Guide to Singing Whilst Self-Isolated
My morning vocal warmup routine
How to build a recording studio on a budget
5 Reasons Sleep Helps Boost Your Singing
The Art of Re-Building a Voice