The Tour Book – medical expertise

I have received this very helpful  email regarding ‘The Tour Book’ from reader Dean Colley:
“Dear Andy,I’m a third of the way into your book and it is fantastic! My knowledge of the technical end of live performance have either been confirmed or enlightened. Brilliant explanations of engineering and art. However, I’d like to point out one small defect in chapter 6 “Tips to help maintain your voice.”

Regarding caffeine and alcohol, or any other beverage: I’d like to point out there is never any physical contact between the liquid swallowed and the larynx, or vocal folds. This is due to the act of swallowing and the physiology of the throat. The vocal cords are shielded from liquids, food semisolids, and even saliva, by the action of the base of the epiglottis. Quite simply, food and drink are routed around the area of the vocal folds. Therefore, the cords are unaffected.

As a singer, and former medical technician, I can assure you there is one exception to the above. When consuming alcohol, in any form (beer, wine, spirits), the effect on the vocal cords can be quite dramatic. Alcohol, in its many forms, has a physical property that allows it to be absorbed directly into the body and bloodstream through the skin and mucousal membranes. Read the label of common hand lotions and you’ll see alcohol in the ingredients. When alcohol is swallowed, tissues “surrounding” the vocal cords absorb small amounts. The initial effect is a dilation of blood vessels in this tissue. This gives an initial sensation of “clarity and control” in the throat. That irritating lugey parked in your throat seems to magically disappear! Trickery, trickery, trickery. This may be true when a rock singer takes a quick shot of Irish whiskey before taking the stage for a 2-hour show, but its the act of moving about the stage, singing, and breathing that take over keeping the blood flow up naturally. The caveat being; if one shot is good, two is better. Not true. The result of introducing alcohol to the body, and the vocal cords, is a numbing of the network of tiny nerves that control the voice and other coordinated body movments. Ever hear a drunk person sing? The same is true with throat sprays. Read the ingredients…without the alcohol, there is nothing to carry the medicinal properties of the spray (if any exist) into the tissue. Common sore throat spray is actually for a condition called pharyngitis, which is an area far above the vocal cords. The spray has a numbing effect on the surrounding tissue so the pain temporarily goes away.

In conclusion, the tiniest drop of fluid surrounding or entering the vocal folds will send you into a coughing fit. Another wives tale is that you can cough up a mistimed swallow of a beverage. The truth is, you keep coughing until the fluid has been absorbed into the surrounding tracheal tissue.

Although Frank Sinatra has been quoted as saying, “I never met a singer wasn’t 3 pack a day”, the end result of a smoking habit is well known. That crisp, gravely voice we all like to hear will disintegrate over time as the nerve endings to the vocal tissues are damaged.

Everything else you have mentioned on this subject in your book is right on. I’m really glad I picked it up.


Dean Colley”

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