Menthol Lozenges: Why To Avoid With A Sore Throat
Sometimes it’s crazy to me the little things our professions teach us, that every day folks might not know. As voice talent, we have to be sooooo careful with our precious instruments - because they're the one thing above all else we must keep in top condition to do this job.
So in case anyone needed a reminder - Menthol (which is found in most cough drops) dries out the throat. In fact, the "stronger" the numbing, the worse!
The other day I was taking a drive test. My instructor was coughing a bit, and said it was the dry cold. But not to worry - he always keeps his cough drops on hand!
He then proceeded to reach into his pocket, and pull out this trusted "solution" of his. As he unwrapped the lozenge, I could smell that usual menthol cough drop smell we all know so well.
Of course, because the average person is not into throat health like us VO weirdos, it’s a common misconception among them that menthol lozenges, or "cough drops" prevent coughs. This is deceivingly incorrect.
Menthol lozenges are suppressants that numb the throat so your symptoms are alleviated temporarily. It’s important to understand - Menthol is classified as an irritant. Once the numbing wears off, you're bound to be coughing even more than you were.
The short term effect is relief - but only from the immediate feeling/pain associated with coughing, not from the actual effects of overusing your voice, or coughing to clear it - this means you're not going to feel the damage you could be doing. And one of the main long term affects of using these lozenges - especially with repeated and consistent use - is that the menthol dries out your throat, causing that tickle to be even more present!
And so, this poor sweet man had been dehydrating and irritating his throat with menthol every time he felt the slightest tickle. It was no wonder his cough seemed to be lingering!
I explained to him that sucking on cough drops all day to “help a cough” will actually prolong it. The man was shocked, because of course - you would think logically a cough drop would help with a cough. "I had no idea!" he said, and asked if I know of any other methods that might help him.
Here are some simple things I suggested he try instead:
- Honey based, menthol-free lozenges. (Make sure things like 'menthol', 'peppermint', 'eucalyptus' are not on the ingredient list)
- WATER. Tea + honey helps, hydration via good ol' H2O is still necessary.
- Avoid spicy, sugar-y, and high salt foods while you have a sore throat.
- Try a nebulizer with saline solution to open up the lungs. (Be careful not to overuse - saline water is essentially salt water after all)
- Vocal rest as needed, when you can.
To reiterate - there is a time and a place for menthol/peppermint - temporary* cough relief/easier breathing is what its intended for. If you’re really sick and having a coughing fit, cough drops CAN help in the short term. But if you find you’re having a persistent tickle, the cough drops are likely the culprit.
Menthol lozenges aren’t a healer, and they certainly aren't a catchall solution to a sore throat.
Be careful with your instruments my lovely VO friends! - Aiden