When Allergies Attack

Allergies, like illnesses are hard on singers and their voices. I know many a fine singer who has been cut down by the severity of his or her allergies.

If you haven’t been formally diagnosed with allergies, pay attention to your “spring colds.” If you get a cold around the same time every year, it might be allergies. And if you’re highly sensitive to allergens, they can make you feel as lousy as any cold or flu. (And, yes, you can develop allergies “all of a sudden.”)

cherry blossom During the spring, (and for some singers in the fall), all those blooming trees, grasses and flowers can wreak havoc on the body’s immune system causing itchy eyes, runny noses and fits of coughing.

In allergy sufferers, the immune system over-reacts to allergens and constantly tries to flush the offenders out of the body through tearing, sneezing and coughing. Coughing attacks are especially hard on the voice since they can cause the vocal folds to slam together repeatedly and forcefully. (I know singers with severe allergies who lose their voice when allergy season begins. *sad face*)

If you suffer from allergies, here are some things to try to keep you and your voice in working order.

1. Visit a doctor. Find a doctor, ideally an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat), who works with singers and understands how you need to use your voice. It may also help to find out to what exactly you are allergic.

2. Watch the weather. Start paying attention to pollen counts. They’re included in most weather forecasts during allergy season. Pollen in the air irritates the sinuses and causes inflammation of the nasal passages, leading to post nasal drip, which can cause coughing.

3. Stay inside. If you know you have to be in good voice for a performance, limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. (Remember to keep windows closed on high-pollen days, too.)

4. Dust and vacuum regularly. Use a damp cloth when you dust and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to avoid spreading allergens around. If you have carpet (especially with pets), you may want to consider having it cleaned.

5. Water your nose. Use nasal irrigation to clear irritants out of your nasal passages and help ease coughing; the combination of baking soda and non-iodized salt helps to reduce swelling. Irrigate in the mornings and evenings during allergy season. (NOTE: You should NOT irrigate your nasal passages if you are suffering from acute sinusitis — a sinus infection — because it can spread the infection.)

6. Don’t dry up. Avoid nasal sprays and mentholated throat drops. These dry out the nasal passages and the vocal tract.

7. Get steamed. Steam can help loosen congestion. Take a hot shower, sit with your face over a bowl of hot water (careful — steam is HOTTER than boiling water!) or get a vaporizer. IMPORTANT, vaporizers need to be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week, otherwise they can grow mold and send spores into the air.

8. Get an air purifier. Place it in your bedroom to minimize the allergens you inhale while sleeping.

9. Get some shut-eye. During allergy season, your immune system is in overdrive, be sure to get plenty of sleep so your body can rest and repair.

10. Stay hydrated. Water helps move toxins out of the body. Reduce caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, both are drying (especially if you are already taking antihistamines).

11. Consider the alternatives. Some singers have found relief through acupuncture and/or dietary changes, such as reducing sugar and dairy products or eating more spicy foods. Grape seed extract and Quercetin (an antioxidant found in certain foods) are also purported to help reduce allergy symptoms. If you decide to visit an acupuncturist or homeopathic practitioner, try to get a referral from another singer.

Unfortunately, none of these suggestions will make all of your allergy symptoms go away, but with a little attention and TLC, you and your voice can get through allergy season.

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