How do allergies occur in the first place? And why do they interfere with the singer’s voice? Vocal coach and allergy sufferer, Kate Cubley, decided to do some research on this debilitating but common condition.
We all might be guilty of taking our voices for granted whilst they remain happy and healthy. But when allergy season hits, vocal fatigue can sometimes leave us feeling dry, out of control and unable to sing or speak the way we usually would. In some cases, allergies can even lead to total voice loss.
Since allergies are thought to affect more than a quarter of people in the UK, there is a good chance you probably know someone who suffers with allergies. Unfortunately, when we are expected to perform on stage, allergies can affect the sound we make, hinder our singing ability and may undermine our earning potential. Typical symptoms of allergies include a runny nose, watery mucous, nasal congestion, itchiness and sneezing.
Pollen, dust, foods, mould, spores, cigarette smoke and environmental pollution are all common allergens. Environmental irritants are another well recognised cause of voice dysfunction and may include fogs, scenery, make-up, costumes, wigs, paint, fabrics, trappings, dusty lighting rigs, rarely cleaned dressing rooms, cold air and dry heat.
When allergies start, our eyes can become red and weepy making it tricky to read music. The mouth and throat may itch causing discomfort and we may develop a dry cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing (asthma). Allergies may cause general fatigue, disrupted sleep, headaches and itchy ears. Blocked sinuses may contribute to hearing loss, interfering with our auditory feedback resulting in altered vocal production.
Whilst any of these symptoms might initially affect our ability to sing phrases with the same poise and agility as usual, a singer may work harder to retain their preferred sound, causing unnecessary stress on the voice, vocal fatigue or worsening discomfort in the throat.
Some common management strategies
Many singers use medication to alleviate allergy symptoms but all effective medications will have some sort of side effect. Antihistamines and Vitamin C dry the mucous membranes. Asthma inhalers, steroid decongestant spray, cough medicines are all related to drying. This dryness may cultivate a different problem for a singer, as the voice may sound croaky or breathy and the vocal folds may be more prone to injury.
We learn to sing by “creating new neurological pathways… by repeating patterns of movement”. Speech And Language Therapist generally encourage efficient vocalization and good vocal habits instead of drugs, where possible. “Infections or vocal fatigue may lead to tension and a disconnection between the breath and the body.” When working with voices afflicted by allergies, it is sensible to work with the connection between breath and body in the speaking voice, before moving into singing.
Some useful vocal exercises
Occlusion or semi-occlusion of the vocal tract appears to balance vocal tract impedance, making it easier to initiate and maintain phonation. Because it also decreases collision forces on the vocal folds, it may be particularly helpful when dealing with delicate voices inflamed by allergies.
We easily take for granted that healthy voices should be looked after. When in optimal health, it is easy to skip warm-ups, socialise in loud environments and push our voices beyond normal usage without realising. When a singer becomes aware of their reactions to unavoidable allergens in the environment, extra measures should be taken to preserve health and sustain healthy vocalisation.
It remains difficult to maintain voice health when plagued with allergies so vocal hygiene should be taken to a whole new level by those suffering, whether seasonal or year-round. With a greater awareness of what you can to help yourself, it is possible to plan a regime of best care for your performance and practice during this troublesome time.
If you suffer from allergies then find out what you can do to help your voice by joining Kate Cubley for a practical webinar on
27th August at 7pm.class=”wp-block-image”>