Singing & Allergies
Douglas Von Edelmann
At the age of five I began studying singing. I sang for pure pleasure and enjoyment without realizing that later I would make a life and career from it as a professional. It continues to be a great pleasure to sing and evolve in a field that presents continuous challenge and excitement. Being a performing artist is considered to be one the most stressful careers among all careers. The main reason of course being that singers carry their instruments inside their bodies and are continuously under the microscopic scrutiny of their performances on a regular basis.
Therefore, the precision of how one sings relies completely on the health and care of the singers instrument. Stress management, proper diet, regular exercise, overall health, emotional and physical strength and the environment are just a few of the key factors that influence a singers life daily. Unlike playing a violin or the piano for example, singers must take total care and monitor their bodies and voices with precision for continuous excellence in the training process/progress and outstanding performance results. Naturally obtaining a cold, chronic sickness or exposure to sudden climate extremities such as humidity and temperature will affect the performing artist. However, one of the more invisible and aggravating villains against the singing voice are allergies. There are a plethora of environmental, seasonal and food allergies that deny the singer the opportunity to be at their best, especially under high stress situations like competitions, performances, preparation timelines for strenuous rehearsal periods leading to important premieres. As a singer I have experienced the woes of allergy symptoms my entire life and remain a victim to these unwelcome cretins that overtake ones singing voice in the most incriminating manner. Having tried many therapies to relieve ill symptoms, I continue to treat my seasonal allergies in spring and fall (that were promised would become milder as I aged, but instead, have become even more fierce) in a variety of effective, but incurable ways. Allergies affect many people, no doubt due to our radically changing global climate and pollution factors that influence the natural environment around us. Here are a few tips that may serve to clarify some answers to questions about allergies and how to find solutions to them as a singer.
IDENTIFY SYMPTOMS & ALLERGIES: Grasses, pollen, airborne particles, molds, foods etc. are the usual culprits that singers identify in their symptomatic phase. Allergy testing can be useful for identifying allergens which lead to effective means of treatment. Most allergies cause severe nasal passage irritation and edema, which often leads to more severe problems like sinusitis. This is an inflammation of the sinuses, airspace's within the bones of the face. Sinusitis is most often due to an infection within these spaces. This swelling naturally affects the singers ability to feel natural sensations of resonance, sustain effective breath control and access consistent airflow for proper vocal cord approximation and coordination. Nasal blockage from this swelling and excess mucous production can be very uncomfortable and makes singing a great effort, even to create a marginal sound which usually misrepresents the singers normal capacity of vocal production. It is psychologically and physically frustrating; and most of all, it creates even more stress on top of the usual demands associated with training and performing. Itchy eyes, congestion, coughing, headaches, running nose and fatigue all contribute to the oppression of the singing voice during allergy reactions.
NATURAL HOMEOPATHIC THERAPY: Before you decide which therapy is best for you, determine what your options are first. Immunotherapy, or injection therapy for pollen allergies, can provide permanent solutions over time, although it is not guaranteed as a cure. However, it may provide significant relief at the minimum but requires a longer period of time for it to take effect. Acupuncture or herbal formulas which strengthen the Endocrine (Hormone) System and respiratory tract are often effective in shorter periods of treatment time. "Bromelain" is a supplement which reduces the histamines released through the body's natural allergic response. Products such as "Prime Again" and "Conco" are also noted by singers as effective, although there is no actual scientific evidence supporting the effects of herbal treatments. However, an individual should seek out every option of assistance in providing relief, strength and comfort in singing during allergy reactions.
MEDICATIONS & SIDE EFFECTS: This is perhaps the most effective means of rapid onset of allergies and can be helpful for a fast and simple solution before performances, this specifically includes tablets which include "Cetirizine". Remember, the bodies response to specific antihistamines will change over time. Different medications are continuously appearing on the market every year. It may be necessary to consult an allergist, otolaryngologist and pharmacist to construct the most effective and safe therapy for your body. Every individual may react with varying severity to allergens. Systemic antihistamines can be used to treat seasonal allergies. As well, intranasal topical steroid medication may be useful. However, timing and planning is important for the best results with antihistamine treatment. Do not wait until the allergy symptoms begin. Usually a period of 5-15 days is recommended for allergy tablets to be taken before the allergy season begins. By doing this, the antihistamines are able to stop the release of biochemical mediators of inflammation and swelling when exposure to the allergen begins. Intranasal topical steroid sprays are ideal for congestion, sneezing and runny nose. They are highly effective in the systemic absorption process and have little or no side effects such as fungus growth in the throat. Allergy pills, or anti-histamine medication, is highly effective for itchy throat, tearing, headaches, dizziness and congestion. Certain antihistamines (ie. "Terfenadine") should NOT be taken in association with other medication, including antibiotics, or if you have pre-existing heart or liver disease. One of the most recognized side effects of allergy medications is the drying of the vocal tract. Naturally singers rely on proper hydration and mucous content in the vocal tract. If you are taking allergy medication it is vital that proper hydration, sufficient humidity levels are maintained in your living/work environment and steam therapies accompany the use of medication.
PREVENTION & NUTRITION: Apart from effective therapies, there are many alternatives that singers should utilize in the prevention or severity of allergic reactions. Avoid alcohol and smoking. Avoid wheat, rye, barley, dairy products, refined sugars and flours. Avoid foods that produce mucous such as cold or raw foods, corn, dairy and corn (syrup). Choose whole grains such as rice over wheat etc. Eat cooked green vegetables such as artichoke, broccoli and spinach. Drink plenty of fluids, increase vitamin C intake (time release). As well, a cup of caffeinated coffee can help to clear sinus congestion within ten minutes and may also be helpful in overcoming fatigue and headaches associated with allergy symptoms. Naturally obtaining enough sleep is important to combat the seemingly unlimited stress levels caused by allergies. As well, a nasal douche every morning helps to prevent mucous blockage in the sinus cavities. One teaspoon of salt in warm water can be used to gargle and flush through the nasal passages. A drop of oregano and wintergreen oil can be added to the warm solution as well. Steam spa, or a pot of boiling water, can be carefully inhaled by placing a towel over the head and keeping the eyes closed during inhalation. This is effective in hydrating the vocal tract and opening the sinus cavities to lower congestion levels. A few drops of Eucalyptus oil is effective in this hot water steam spa and provides a state of repose and calm for the body. Drinking plenty of fluids is important, particularly grapefruit juice. This helps to cut through mucous and allow for more efficient breathing. Herbal teas with honey can be comforting. Any peristaltic movement from drinking fluids is also healthy, whilst clearing the throat should be avoided completely at any time as it is counterproductive to healthy vocal cord approximation.
The physical well being of a singer can only be realized by the individuals intelligent choices, psychological and emotional state that balances it. A singer must endure many battlefields to maintain a constant ready state for excellent singing. These four quadrants of our being are strengthened by proper rest, efficient training, condition, exercise and diet which contribute to the overall effect of a great performing career. If you are a singer who is affected by allergic reactions, whether they are seasonal or from food, then arm yourself with a good supply of effective treatments that enable you to be at your vocal best in times of physical challenges in your daily environment. Develop a routine and manner of thinking that allows you to diminish counterproductive stress and arm yourself with affirmative means in creating a beautiful, lasting, healthy singing voice.