How do I stop getting sick on tour?
October 23, 2012 1:18 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop getting sick on tour?

I sing (shout) in a heavy metal band - we go on tour fairly regularly and I invariably get sick after a week or so.

I put this down to a combination of: lack of sleep, lack of decent food, cold weather, and long periods of inactivity combined with short periods of intense activity.

My question is: What vitamins / supplements / anything else can I take in order to boost my immune system whilst I'm away?

NB: I am a vegan.

posted by FuckingAwesome to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wash your hands a lot and avoid touching your face - the number one transmission of viruses and bacteria is touching something (door handle, handrail, microphones, etc) and then touching your face. Carrying some hand gel around with you (although washing with water & soap is preferable if possible). Wash your hands before you eat.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:38 AM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Swap inactivity for exercise.
posted by devnull at 1:41 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

EndsOfInvention: Good shout - will be using my own mic on this run.

Devnull: Hard when you're in a van all day!
posted by FuckingAwesome at 1:43 AM on October 23, 2012

How tightly packed are you in that van? There are exercises, admittedly designed mostly for senior citizens with mobility issues, that can be done while sitting. Perhaps something like that could help.
posted by easily confused at 1:50 AM on October 23, 2012

Lack of sleep is a sure-fire way to stress your immune system, so try and sleep as much as possible. Take a high quality multivitamin and a B complex. Get plenty of fluid, avoid sugary drinks and alcohol.
posted by Specklet at 1:53 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Air quality in the van could be an issue. I don't get sick often but when I do it's usually after flying or extended roadtrips with the ac or heat on.
posted by mannequito at 2:13 AM on October 23, 2012

Consider using zinc lozenges. I find they help.
posted by cosmac at 3:34 AM on October 23, 2012

" I put this down to a combination of: lack of sleep, lack of decent food, cold weather, and long periods of inactivity combined with short periods of intense activity."

This sounds like an accurate assesment of your root problem, where the cold weather will cause you to be inside more often. Unless any of us can find a suppliment that will cause you to not do these things, there really isn't a way we can adequately help you. However, moderate amounts of zinc taken prophylactically, way before you feel sick, have been shown to both reduce one's chance of getting sick with viral ENT diseases, which sounds like what you're going through, and reduce the length of sickness for those who get sick anyway. Really the best advice that we can give you is to

  • Take care of yourself as much as possible,
  • Be very careful keep yourself hydrated - with particular attention to booze,
  • Eat as well as you can - especially as a vegan, Wash your hands before every meal and anytime you interact with someones fluids,
  • Try no not be in really intimate contact with folks
  • and
  • Get as much sleep and as regular sleep as possible.

  • I get that this list sounds like advice to not sing (shout) in a heavy metal band on tour, but that is kind of the conundrum that you're in.

    Good luck!
    posted by Blasdelb at 3:50 AM on October 23, 2012

    Also zinc tablets should NEVER run you more than a couple cents a dose. Anywhere you find suppliments there will be folks trying to sell you shit that would run you $20-$40 a week, and they can fuck right off. Zinc is stupidly cheap, even in GMP production.
    posted by Blasdelb at 3:53 AM on October 23, 2012

    There are a lot of mixed studies on how helpful zinc is with regards to colds. Instead of trying something that MAY or MAY NOT work, definitely focus on comsumables or activities that are proven to work, such as drinking plenty of water, sleeping, and keeping your personal possessions from exchaning too many hands.

    Besides, zinc isn't ideal if you take it frequently, which I assume is what you want to do since you travel often and are exposed to sicknesses frequently. Even if Zinc were to be proven effective, it has some not-so-good side effects, and can even be toxic, when taken in large doses, or taken for long periods of time.

    Please be aware of any potential side-effects before you start taking any vitamin supplements. Always know the dosage appropriate for your body.
    posted by nikkorizz at 5:26 AM on October 23, 2012

    What kind of sick? You get a cold, or you get laryngitis?
    posted by slkinsey at 5:38 AM on October 23, 2012

    Since you're vegan, you might want to check that you are getting enough iron in your diet since vegetarians and vegans are more likely than normal to be deficient in iron.

    The iron that one would normally get through meats, milk and eggs need to be replaced by other dietary foods that contain iron. Not enough iron can make you feel tired and can lower your immune system.
    posted by nikkorizz at 5:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    My question is: What vitamins / supplements / anything else can I take in order to boost my immune system whilst I'm away?

    posted by vitabellosi at 6:06 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    HELPFUL HABITS: Wash your hands a ton. Use hand sanitizer. Take hot-and-cold showers, alternating 30 seconds cold with 1.5 minutes hot (supposedly gets your lymph nodes working by making your blood move from your extremities to your torso and back). If your bandmates are feeling sick and you're in the van with them all day, put a dab of Neosporin on the bottom of your nose.

    HELPFUL SUPPLEMENTS: take Vitamin C and Wellness Resistance Formula. (Resistance Formula has propolis in it; if you don't eat bee products you can substitute Yin Chiao.)

    HELPFUL FOODS: miso soup with garlic is an immune-boosting balm. Kefir (you can buy kefir grains on Etsy and make your own coconut milk or soy kefir on the road. It works as an immune stimulant in part because the friendly probiotic yeasts/bacteria colonize your body so completely that there just isn't room left for the creepy bacteria). Sauerkraut. And my personal favorite, MAGIC HOT PEPPERMINT TEA i.e. mint tea with red pepper flakes in it. I swear that stuff wards off a thousand colds, and it's easy to take with you.
    posted by feets at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2012

    p.s. Vitamin C is something good to take every day, as is zinc. Wellness Formula can be taken daily for about two weeks but then you should give it a rest. Yin Chiao on its own is only supposed to be taken when you feel a cold coming on. Elderberry has been shown in studies to have some good effects against the flu.

    p.p.s. Speaking of the flu, get a flu shot!
    posted by feets at 6:16 AM on October 23, 2012

    I put this down to a combination of: lack of sleep, lack of decent food, cold weather, and long periods of inactivity combined with short periods of intense activity.

    Get more sleep, eat better food, stay warm, try to be more active.
    posted by devnull at 6:40 AM on October 23, 2012

    Drink lots of water. Have a bottle on you at all times, onstage and off.
    posted by h00py at 6:45 AM on October 23, 2012

    Shiitake mushrooms. You can get 'em dried for easier transport and storage, and add them to the miso soup mentioned above which you should be eating some of every day. Make sure your miso soup has live miso; get miso paste and add to water after it's taken off the heat/out of the microwave.
    posted by parrot_person at 6:48 AM on October 23, 2012

    Former roadie / sound engineer here...bring your own mic to venues, even if it's nothing fancy, because vocal mics are absolutely filthy. Drink lots of water, try to get adequate sleep, even if it's not every single night. Wipe down surfaces in the van with disinfectant. Make sure you're eating enough, especially since it's hard to get vegan food on the road.

    Oh, and don't touch your face, especially when you've been handling those germ-laden mics.
    posted by corey flood at 6:53 AM on October 23, 2012

    I am a pediatric Nurse Practitioner and I work with sick kids all day long, every day.

    It bears repeating--wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for as long as it takes to go through the 'Happy Birthday' song. Wash your hands after you use the restroom, before you eat, after you eat, before you apply cosmetics, and after your hands have touched others. Wash your hands more often if you are a nail-biter, face puller, and/or nose/teeth picker. Wash your hands. Oh, and please wash your hands.

    Get the flu vaccine. It's already been an early flu season, and I've seen patients positive for flu type B, which is more virulent.

    The best time to get sick is when you already are. When you are ill, be more vigilant about hand washing, rest, and fluids. Don't share beverages or utensils and keep an eye out for stuff like using someone's guitar pick/pencil that they may have just had in their mouth.

    The majority of ambulatory illness is viral upper respiratory infection which have a 3-10 day course. If you have a two week duration of the same illness that has not gotten better or has gotten worse, have not gotten better and then acquire a new symptom, or seem to be getting better and then acquire a fever, see a provider.

    Shred it into pieces on stage and have an awesome time, then wash your hands (and have a glass of water).
    posted by rumposinc at 7:22 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

    Bring a pillow and maybe a blanket. They make sleeping in the van a lot more comfortable, which means you're getting actual sleep, not just dozing off for a few minutes.

    Enough real sleep is important because even if getting sick is inevitable (you are coming into contact with lots of New And Exciting Germs And Viruses), sleep & comfortable rest is super-important in helping you recover more quickly. Personally, I find aspirin also helps.

    Nthing lots of water. Juice is also good (actual juice, not juice-flavored drinks), stay away from sodas.

    I'm sure it's really tough being a vegan on the road, but it is possible to eat better with a little effort. I bet part of your "long period of inactivity" is the time spent hanging around between soundcheck and show time. Whenever possible, use that time to take a walk, ideally to somewhere you can get some better food. Even a little corner convenience store might have some fresh fruits & vegetables. If part of your food problems stem from the venues providing meals, see if you can get a cash buy-out instead, and then directions to a vegan-friendly restaurant.

    Resist the urge to buy junk food when you stop for fuel. (This is a tough one.)
    posted by soundguy99 at 7:31 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    If you're getting sick with a cold or the flu, the best things you can do are to wash or sanitize your hands very frequently, avoid touching your face, use your own microphone (rubbing the outside with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol wouldn't hurt), make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep, drink lots of fluids and make sure you're getting all the dietary nutrients you need. This all boils down to two things: minimize the vectors for infection and maximize your body's immune system.

    If, on the other hand, you're getting sick as in losing your voice or getting laryngitis, that is completely different. The kind of singing you do puts a great strain on the voice instrument, and so it is incumbent upon you to take steps to minimize damage and maximize recovery after a performance. Drinking lots of fluids and abstaining from alcohol and smoking are no-brainers. I would recommend a big dose of ibuprophen after performances to help bring down swelling in the vocal folds. I would also recommend an old tip from the operatic world: It is somewhat traditional for tenors singing heroic roles to literally not speak at all on the day after a performance in order to give the instrument a chance to recover. This is something you might consider doing. It's especially important considering that you're spending a lot of your time in a van. There is a lot more background noise in a car, van or bus than most people realize, and it can put a huge strain on the voice to talk over this background noise for hours on end. Shutting up in the bus is one of the most valuable voice-saving skills the traveling singer can learn.

    I should hasten to add that even if your big problem is catching cold on tour and not laryngitis, the fact that you may be walking around with some chronic trauma and irritation in your throat tissues makes you much more susceptible to infection. Anything you can do to minimize that will increase your resistance.
    posted by slkinsey at 7:32 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    My partner tours a few times a year, and he used to come back feeling really unhealthy although he doesn't always get sick.

    Anyway I got tired of his whinging about how all the venues only give them unhealthy crap to eat, so now I pack him off with a whole load of healthy snacks like nuts and dried fruit.

    I think he craved the crap food at first, but now he's really into them, and all the different kinds of nuts and fruit contain different vitamins, many of which boost your immune system and give you super-defences against germs :)
    posted by greenish at 7:34 AM on October 23, 2012

    Other things to make sure of:

    1> Whether you're a singer or a shouter, you're still at the mercy of your voice. Even if you come down with something, you can still soldier on in many cases if you take good care of your voice. (Avoiding cigarette smoke and those who smoke around you, for one.)

    2> Even if you are a relatively unknown band, make sure you have a rider for the places you perform which provides you the kind of minimal environment needed to protect your health and the quality of your performances. Any club that won't provide you hot water, lemon, honey and/or ginger, and ideally some sort of food, or an inexpensive, healthy meal or advanced notice about where you can order healthy food nearby... isn't worth dealing with. They are used to riders with a ton of booze on them, but if you provide them with one that makes it clear the conditions you tour under and your need for some basics to maintain your health and level of performance -- as opposed to getting drunk, angry, and trashing the dressing room -- they'll respect you more and want to work with you again. (Just don't come off as expensive or nitpicky.)

    3> As a vegan, make sure you are getting your daily B-12, in addition to a daily multivitamin. Vitamin D wouldn't be a bad idea either, if you are spending all your time in the back of a van or in nightclubs. It's actually really good to be vegan if you want to avoid things that create phlegm. There are unhealthy vegans, though... don't be one of them. Try to not overdo it on the sugars or highly processed carbs when you're on the road. Reduce your consumption of foods made with wheat flour and sugar, especially bread and most packaged snack foods... not only are they empty calories, but they're also prone to causing inflammation, which is the last thing you need when singing or fighting off a cold. Try to eat carbs that are as close to unprocessed as possible, even on the road. There are some surprisingly good options out there, considering. Popcorn. Wasabi peas. Rice cakes. Dried fruits and nuts. Even corn nuts aren't particularly bad for you... just don't overdo it on the salt or on anything that is hard on your throat. Lately, I have been eating Quaker oats (uncooked) with soymilk and a piece of fruit for breakfasts. You can pull this off at most 7-11s nowadays.

    4> Consider getting yourself a portable stove for your van. You can use it to heat water, meals, soups, veggie chili, etc. on the road. You can actually save money doing this, in fact. Hot beverages -- other than endless amounts of coffee and sugar -- are your friend. Caffeine can actually make your problems worse, but lemon, ginger, and a bit of honey can be great for your throat. Whenever I go on long trips, I swear by those "soup mugs", as they are easy to clean and you can eat or drink anything out of them. Many also have sealable lids, which is helpful for road trips.

    5> Hot water is your friend. If you get an opportunity to take a shower on the road, DO IT! I used do security for college concerts, and once smuggled Perry Farrell into my dorm to take a shower when he was first starting out, touring under similar circumstances. Always know where your towel is.

    6> Consider trying a neti pot, and regular gargling with salt water. I never thought I would do this, but I was desperate... and it helped immensely. Do it every day. (And just about everything else recommended in the video on that page actually works. Saline spray is always a good thing. A clean nose means less post-nasal drip... which means a healthy throat and vocal cords.) Here's more info on how to get started with neti pots.

    7> One thing she doesn't say that I happen to know after hearing from my allergist. If you use nasal spray like Afrin, it will gradually stop working for you, and, in fact, make your congestion worse. That basically means that you can use it for, say, about three days before it actually starts to make your problem worse, requiring you to use it regularly just to be "normal"/uncongested. However, if you pop the top off and mix the Afrin with equal parts of saline spray, you can use it for 30 days straight with no problems. Just one spray per nostril per day, though.

    8> If you think you have allergies, take care of them. Zyrtec is highly recommended, because it doesn't dry you out and is good for daily usage. Walgreen sells it without a prescription now. I used to be around a *lot* of cigarette and pot smoke. Now, I find I'm allergic to both... so it's entirely possible that you are so immersed in allergens in your daily life, you aren't even aware of the problem, other than you seem to get sick easily. Some of that can be allergy-related... or perhaps your body is working so hard in fending off an onslaught of various pollutants that it cannot effectively fend off a simple cold.
    posted by markkraft at 8:00 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Dry air can also be rough on your nose and throat. I find I get extra-parched on long cold-weather car trips: the air's already pretty dry in the winter, and then sitting in front of the hot air vent in a car is a little like sticking a hair dryer in your face. I wonder if there's some way you could set up a portable humidifier, either maybe in the van or at least in the room where you're sleeping at night.
    posted by nebulawindphone at 10:33 AM on October 23, 2012

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