Singer Lore: Help For Swollen Vocal Cords

Inching my way out of this bad cold flu bronchitis, I turned to facebook to ask my professional singer friends for their personal last-ditch remedies when a gig is getting near and the vocal folds are still swollen (and therefor not, as we say in singing circles, “approximating”). I don’t mean full-out injury, but rather that recovery time when you’re almost, but not quite, there. This question generated a long and entertaining discussion about the pros and cons of certain medications and methods, which I have boiled down to its essence here for you:

Bromelain, a clear winner with the singers in Germany. It’s made from pineapples, is available without a prescription and reduces swelling. My Austrian pharmacy sold me a less-powerful version of it called Wobenzym, but said that they could order Bromelain.

Ibuprofen. There was a bit of an debate about this. Ibubrofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which works by thinning the blood, like aspirin, but which might lead to real damage if your cords are so raw that the capillaries are near the surface. Some people say “absolutely no ibuprofen”, others say it’s the only option short of steroids, which come with their own set of risk factors.

Some prescription-only suggestions: Serrapeptase (in Germany called Aniflazym),  dexibuprofen, and the once-in-a-decade last-ditch option of cortisone in the form of prednisone and its cousin prednisolone (I guess if you really can’t cancel without dire consequences. But you’ll be out of commission for a while afterward so it really is not often recommended.)

Non-prescription medications and home remedies: Inhaling sage tea with salt, steam, NO steam but cold mist, eating raw garlic, hot grape juice, Eibischwurzeltee (marsh mallow root tea) applied cold (onto the skin?), warm Dr. Pepper, GeloRevoice, diclofenac, lymphdiaral (homeopathic drops),  fresh ginger in water with honey (ginger is supposed to shrink swelling), guafenisin (in America it’s in Vicks 44, not available in Austria), warmed honey, chicken soup, and cancelling the gig.


Here is a professional singer who recommends rubbing Preparation H (hemorrhoid cream!) directly on your Adam’s apple , which sounds weird. But who am I to say.

Here’s what I normally do, beyond what my doctor prescribes me:

Ibuprofen, Bromelain, inhaling the steam from elderflower (Hollunder) tea (the kind from the pharmacy, not the supermarket), gargling with salt water, nasal irrigation with salt water (boil the water first and let it cool to a usable temperature! This procedure led to a few deaths in the U.S. from people unwittingly using contaminated water from the tap. Better safe than sorry!)

My prescription-only throat spray is Locabiosol, which I get when I am see-the-doctor sick (usually once a year at the most) and then use what remains of it during the rest of year for those borderline cases. A good over-the-counter substitute is Klosterfrau Islandisch Moos throat spray, a little bottle of which I keep at the theater all through the season. I am also a big fan of Golia lozenges, especially the little ones, which are small enough and soft enough for me to keep pressed onto a back molar while I am onstage. I was told that they were also Pavarotti’s favorite throat lozenges. I believe they are only available in Italy (I have generous friends who get bags of them for me when they go to Milan.)


If you’ve come here in search of a remedy for your own swollen cords, then best of luck and get well soon!

What are your methods?

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2 Responses to Singer Lore: Help For Swollen Vocal Cords

  1. I’ve never heard of Golia, but I’ll be trying them soon. There’s something similar in Austria – Isländisch Moos. Also soft enough to stick in a back molar. They got me through that extremely long Tristan/Isolde duet when Brangäne is just sitting there… As for some of the other suggestions, I would urge caution when using diclofenac. It is an OTC NSAID, but it’s pretty strong. Also, just to clarify, prednisone/prednisolone is cortisone. Thanks for gathering all this info!

  2. Marcellina says:

    Some of my colleagues don’t like the taste but I am hooked on them now. I didn’t know Isländisch Moos comes in lozenge form, thanks, I’ll ask for them. And thanks for the corrections, I’ll edit them in!

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