Avoiding Colds and Flu as a Musician
As a singer in a band, it really super sucks to get a cold or the flu, because they can severely limit vocal ability and range. But even if you are an instrumentalist who doesn’t sing in a group, it can still suck to get sick, especially on the road if you are touring. Colds and flu take a toll on energy levels and if you take certain over-the-counter medications for symptoms, they can slow your mental acuity as well.
Here are some tips for avoiding colds/flu or mitigating their negative impacts.
Wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer. When you are out in the world, you are exposed to pathogens carried by other people and surfaces. Door handles are touched by many people and who knows where their hands have been. This is especially true when traveling. Consider the handle of your average gas pump, used daily by hundreds of people. Washing hands frequently reduces the probability of contracting a cold or flu, though it is not perfect. If you shake the hand of someone with a cold, consider that they may have recently coughed into their hand. Most symptomatic people with colds have the courtesy to not shake your hand because they know they are sick, but some people don’t care.
Good diet and exercise maximize your body’s ability to fight off infections. Avoid junk food and try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Aerobic exercise improves lung health.
If you are a smoker, consider quitting. The damage cigarettes do to the lungs is significant and limits their ability to prevent infections and expel pathogens.
If you do get a cold or flu…
Eat a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, which have lots of vitamins and antioxidant nutrients. Many of the symptoms of a cold are caused by inflammation and antioxidants reduce inflammation to some extent. Vitamin C is one such antioxidant commonly recommended when you are sick, but there are many more in foods like apples (“an apple a day…”).
Exercise aerobically. Most people associate aerobic exercise with good heart health, but it is also great for the lungs. The deep breathing that occurs with aerobic exercise helps keep the lungs pliant and elastic so they can better remove the mucous that builds up due to pathogens. It may be hard to find the energy to exercise when you are sick, but try.
Zinc lozenges can reduce the severity and duration of colds. They may also prevent secondary infections of the upper respiratory system that are caused by post-nasal drainage. Different brands have questionable efficacy, but the enhanced zinc lozenges made by Life Extension definitely work, from my years of experience with them.
Drink hot liquids like herbal tea. Staying hydrated helps with mucous production, which helps neutralize and expel pathogens. Herbal teas also contain antioxidants that decrease inflammation.
Get plenty of rest. This isn’t always easy as a professional musician, but if you are sick and have a choice between an after-gig all-night party or going to bed, do the latter. The antihistamine allergy medicine Benedryl works both to limit cold symptoms like runny nose and to make you drowsy so you sleep better.