Allergies dictate many people’s lives. As a singer, suffering from the symptoms of seasonal allergies can be even more frustrating. Stuffy noses, congestion, and itchy sinuses can all take their toll on your voice. Is there a way to combat a hoarse voice caused by allergies?
Do allergies affect your singing voice? Allergies and hay fever are an unexpected threat to a singer. Allergens can affect your vocal cords, causing hoarseness and even voice loss. What’s worse, some antihistamines can worsen the impact on your voice. Singers require alternative allergy remedies.
When you’re following a healthy lifestyle as a singer, losing your voice to allergies can be exasperating. Especially when winter allergies can target your vocals, too. This article explores the best ways to keep a hoarse voice at bay all year round.
Allergy voice problems
Allergies can affect your singing voice, and cause a wide range of frustrating voice problems. Even if you follow a strict, healthy lifestyle as a singer, your voice can still be impaired by allergies. The symptoms of seasonal allergies are:
- A hoarse voice
- A raspy voice
- Complete voice loss
- Dry, itchy sore throat
- Itchy sinuses
- Inflamed vocal cords
- Impaired singing voice
- Coughing and throat clearing
Can allergies cause a hoarse voice?
Allergies can target your respiratory system and leave your voice hoarse and raspy. Seasonal allergies like pollen allergies and hay fever are two of the worst culprits for impairing your voice.
If you have an allergy, inhaling pollen can inflame the vocal folds and restrict your range and pitch.
Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma and can also cause hoarseness. It’s triggered by allergens including mould, dust mites and pollen and causes symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and hoarseness.
Coughing causes trauma to your vocal cords and makes your larynx extra sensitive. Allergies trigger bouts of necessary coughing, but if you cough and clear your throat for a prolonged period of time it can become a habit that you start doing even when you don’t need to.
What is a hoarse voice a symptom of?
If your voice is hoarse, your range and pitch will change. Your voice will either sound weak and raspy, or deep and harsh. Hoarseness is the abnormal change of your voice and can be caused by a range of things:
- Thyroid problems
- Trauma to the vocal cords
- Postnasal drips
- Acid reflux
- Laryngeal cancer
- Colds and chest Infections
- Stress and anxiety
- Overuse of your voice
In most cases, hoarseness is caused by some type of irritation or cough and is easily remedied with voice rest. If you have a hoarse voice for 3 weeks or more, consult your doctor to check it over.
Can allergies affect vocal cords?
Allergies pose multiple threats to your vocal cords. Allergens like dust and pollen can get into your airways and directly inflame your vocal folds, which has damaging knock-on effects for your voice.
If your vocal folds become irritated, your voice will become hoarse, raspy and you may lose your voice altogether.
Allergies can also cause you to cough and need to clear your throat – which only impairs your voice further. Coughing can be harmful to your vocal cords as it causes strain and trauma to your larynx.
It isn’t just allergies themselves that will affect your vocal cords; allergen medicines can also have a negative impact. Many over-the-counter antihistamines have a drying effect and deplete the protective layer of mucus around your vocal cords, causing them to stiffen and inflame.
Allergy medicine for singers
Antihistamines should be avoided at all costs if you’re a singer. They can actually prolong and worsen the dehydrating effects on your vocal folds. But there are plenty of alternative allergy medicines musicians can use to alleviate allergy symptoms:
- Nasal steroids and nasal antihistamines – these are a great allergy relief for singers and can help with nasal symptoms and with postnasal drip. They provide targeted relief that won’t affect the voice and throat.
- Medicative pills – some pills such as Singulair and other leukotrienes are safe for singers to take at night as they don’t have a drying effect on the vocal cords.
- Natural antihistamines – some natural plant extracts and foods can work as antihistamines and don’t have a drying effect on your voice.
Natural antihistamines for singers
- Vitamin C – Found in citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
- Butterbur – a plant extract that can be bought in capsule form and relieves hay fever and migraines.
- Probiotics – these can be bought as supplements or capsules and have multiple health benefits. They maintain healthy bacteria in the gut and boost the immune system which can help tackle allergies.
- Quercetin – found naturally in many foods and herbs, including grapes, green tea, broccoli, berries, apples, and red onions. Quercetin is thought to reduce airway inflammation caused by allergens. Taking higher doses from supplements are more effective than from flavonoids in food sources.
- Bromelain – a natural remedy for sinus swelling and inflammation. It can be bought as a supplement or extracted from the core of pineapples.
Can you lose your voice with hay fever?
Hay fever is a common allergy – around 30% of the population suffer with it. Suffering from hay fever is like having a chronic cold; it causes sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a stuffy/runny nose. But most worryingly for singers, hay fever can also cause voice loss.
Hay fever causes congestion in your airways and this leads to postnasal drip (when the mucus from your nose runs down to your throat). This irritates the vocal cords, which may already be inflamed from any pollen you’ve breathed in.
If your vocal cords become swollen or irritated, it can cause your voice to crack, thin, and eventually disappear.
Can hay fever cause laryngitis?
Laryngitis often stems from other illnesses like colds and flu. As hay fever presents a lot of the same symptoms as common colds – postnasal drip, congestion, and sore throat – hay fever can also develop into laryngitis in extreme cases.
The symptoms of laryngitis are hoarseness, voice loss, and a dry, scratchy throat. These can all be caused by allergies.
Laryngitis is the medical term for an inflamed voice box. If you suffer from hay fever, your vocal cords will swell when pollen enters your airways. This swelling could turn into laryngitis in severe cases.
Hoarse voice allergy treatment
Suffering from allergies can be infuriating as there seems to be no relief. Especially if you’re a singer and you need your voice back as soon as possible.
As you’ll need to avoid antihistamines, you’ll need to try some alternative methods to treat your hoarseness:
- Drink plenty of fluids (avoid caffeine and alcohol)
- Set up a humidifier to keep the air most
- Keep your windows closed during pollen seasons
- Wash your sheets weekly in hot water
- Don’t hang your sheets outside
- Vacuum frequently to pick up allergens
- Avoid clearing your throat
- Don’t whisper
- Rest your voice
Singing with hay fever
Fighting hay fever can feel like an endless battle – especially if you’re a singer and it’s impacting your voice. But hay fever doesn’t have to stop you singing. You can keep hoarse, congested tones at bay during allergy season with a few simple techniques:
- Detox – clean living can boost your whole body’s immunity, and help your system stay strong against allergens. Try drinking 8 glasses of water a day and a diet of whole foods and vegetables to give your body a fighting chance.
- Warm–up – preparing your vocal cords for singing is always important, but it’s especially vital when you’re suffering from allergies. A good vocal warm–up can help relax and prepare your vocal cords.
- Steam – set up your own steamer at home by filling a bowl with hot water, putting your face over it and covering your head with a towel. Inhale deeply for 5 – 10 minutes and you’ll feel your nasal passages clear. You may feel silly, but your voice will thank you!
- Nasal cleansing – if you rinse out your sinuses every day, you can stop congestion in your airways building up.
- Air purifiers – filters can be a lifesaver if you suffer from pollen allergies. HEPA filters and other air purifiers will keep your home free from allergens and help you sleep at night.
Can sinus problems affect singing?
Sinus problems can massively affect the quality of your voice. Allergies can target your sinuses, leaving you feeling stuffy and congested and giving you a headache whenever you try to perform.
Sinusitis (the medical term for inflamed and swollen sinus) can also make it hard to sing. The infection is usually caused by bacteria or viruses and can irritate your vocal cords. You may feel too hoarse and stuffy to get on stage but singing can actually help sinusitis.
Humming exercises can help relieve congested sinuses and clear your voice. Many vocal coaches recommend humming phonation to heal your voice.
You can then progress to trying a vocal warm–up to clear your airways. If your voice is hoarse and strained, don’t push it too hard as this can cause more permanent damage.
Can winter allergies affect singing?
Some people suffer from allergies all year round, not just in the summer. Winter allergies are caused by indoor allergens, such as mould, dust mites and animals.
Winters allergens trigger many of the same side effects as pollen allergies, including coughing, a stuffy nose, and postnasal drip.
These symptoms can impair your singing voice in the same way as pollen allergies. The vocal cords become irritated and inflamed by the excess phlegm and the pitch and tone of your voice can change.
Fighting winter allergies starts at home, as this is where most of the allergens are found. Hoovering regularly, setting up a dehumidifier, and washing sheets once a week in hot water will help reduce the growth of mould spores.
How do I get my voice back from allergies?
If you’ve lost your voice due to allergies, the best way to recover is by treating the allergy itself. Decongestants and antihistamines are off the cards for singers as they dry out your voice. But there are lots of other trailed and tested ways to get back a lost voice:
- Exercise for a few minutes to reduce nasal congestion
- Suck honey, menthol or ginger throat lozenges to soothe throat irritation
- Take a hot shower to wash off any allergens and to get steam into your vocal folds
- Use a saline sinus rinse
- Use a nasal spray to ease congestion and relieve your vocal cords
- Gargle with warm salt water to help your sore throat
Singing with allergies
The symptoms of allergies can leave you feeling miserable. But a hoarse, impaired singing voice doesn’t have to get you down. Try natural antihistamines and keep your singing voice on top form all year round.
Frequently asked questions
- How do I tell the difference between allergies and a cold?
Allergies and common colds share a lot of the same symptoms. But there are various key differences that can help you distinguish between them.
A cold will typically last around 7 days, whereas an allergy persists for several weeks. Colds and flu can cause fever and body aches, but allergies don’t.
A sore throat can be caused by allergies but is more commonly a symptom of a cold. Itchy and watery eyes are a tell-tale symptom of an allergy that you won’t get with a cold.
- Can I sing with a hoarse voice?
Taking complete voice rest is the best option when you have a hoarse voice. But if you have a scheduled show and you need to sing, it’s possible for your voice to pull through.
You probably won’t be able to hit all the high notes if you sing with a hoarse voice. Singing while hoarse means you strain your vocal cords to force them to close properly – causing them to swell and limiting your range.
If you sing while you’re hoarse, you risk setting back your recovery and making your voice even worse.
Do you suffer from allergies or hay fever? Let us know if you’ve got any tips or home remedies in the comments below!