Hay fever and other allergies can be a complete nightmare, especially as a singer or public speaker when we really need to use our voices at their optimum. I personally suffer a long few months with miserable hay fever throughout the spring and summer here in England.
In addition to these seasonal allergies, I was diagnosed with Oral Allergy Syndrome 18 months ago which means that I suffer reactions, mild through to severe, from eating certain foods too! These oral reactions are becoming much more common – especially with hay fever sufferers – and can cause irritation of the tongue, throat as well as respiratory difficulties which all affect the voice for both speaking and singing. (You can read a little more about this here if you’re interested.)
Allergic rhinitis, otherise known as hay fever, is usually caused by a variety of airbourne irritants. Pollen and mould spores are the biggest culprits, but hairsprays, perfumes, air fresheners, scented candles, animal fur, dust and pollution such as car fumes can all irritate the respiritory system and cause unpleasant and unwelcome symptoms. Depending on the time of year, you may even find that going for a walk, cycling or even turning on car blowers can exacerbate your allergy!
Hay fever and other allergies cause serious discomfort for some singers and speakers who use their voice throughout their professional and everyday life. Symptoms can include an itchy throat, itchy top of the mouth, a dry tongue, itchy or watery eyes, itchy ears and the production of a large amount of mucous and phlegm. Gross!
Anti-histamine tablets are the favoured and, for me, the most effective way of keeping allergies at bay. At my worst points, I take half a tablet in the morning and another half in the afternoon, but this can adversely affect the voice by drying it out. An obvious way to counteract this dryness is to keep well hydrated. I drink loads of filtered water and also love sparkling water too: there’s something about the bubbles in fizzy water that have a cleansing feeling on the back of the throat.
In addition, what I learned from my recent oral allergy diagnosis is that hot drinks are great at relieving the itching and swelling sensations at the back of the mouth. From what I understand, the heat reconstitutes the protein that causes the allergic reaction, which then means that the allergen changes form, no longer causing the body to produce histhamine and thus reducing or stopping the nasty symptoms associated with the allergy. This is true for food, but apparently less so with airbourne allergies. That said, hot drinks are a great comforter. Herbal tea (nettle tea or peppermint tea are both particularly effective), fresh lemon and ginger, lemon and local honey or even just a mug of hot water can give the feeling of welcome comfort from that nasty itching sensation.
Other methods I have heard of from colleagues or students include sucking sweets which helps to produce extra saliva helping swallowing. If youre looking for a natural remedy, milk thistle boosts the immune system and helps the liver deal with unwanted toxins. Flaxseed oil and coconut oil are good lubricants and are also said to help relieve the itchiness of hay fever too. There are also some homeopathic/natural hay fever tablets. I have found the most effective of these to be Nelsons Pollenna. But different things work for different people, so choose yourself a selection and trial each product respectively for a month to see which works best for you.
Acupuncture and reflexology are also a brilliant way to reduce your hay fever symptoms.
Overall, when you suffer from allergies you MUST keep a close eye on your personal vocal health and you must listen to your own body and know when to stop. You should really refrain from taking pain killers so that you can always feel whats going on in your body, especially paying attention to those small muscles in your throat. Even subtle changes to your voice can affect your efficiency causing you to do weird things with your usual technique: to overcompensate for an unforfilling sound by increasing the air flow or volume or to unintentionally strain yourself to achieve the usual clarity of sound you are used to when your allergies haven’t inflamed or irritated the space you usually use for resonance, for example.
There are loads of ways to try and fix a sound that is hindered by allergy symptoms… Experiment and gently play around with your sound, make it work for you and adapt it to your situation. Know that whilst it might feel or sound different or unfamiliar to you, it may well be perfectly healthy. If however, you start to feel pain, if your voice hurts or if you feel unusually fatigued (it is often only you who can feel or hear these anomolies) make sure that you stop, rest then seek advice from a speech therapist or voice professional to ensure you’re not doing anything that might cause lasting damage to your voice.
If you suffer with allergies that affect the way you use your voice, then err on the side of caution: drink plenty of water, steam frequently and stop if you feel uncomfortable. The more regularly you use your voice or practice, the easier it will be to know what you can do when you do, indeed, have to perform at your best.
Do you have any other remedies to help relieve the symptoms of allergy? Please do share them in the comments section below!