How Allergy Medications Affect the Singing Voice
Allergy medications are sometimes a necessary evil for singers with allergies.
However, the more informed you are about how medications affect your voice, the better you can prepare.
Before turning to the following medications, I recommend trying natural remedies for allergies first.
The important thing to note about almost all allergy medication is the fact that almost all allergy medications dry out your cords.
That said, be sure you drink way more water than normal when you’re on allergy medication.
Below, I’ve listed and explained different types of remedies singers often reach for when needing an allergy fix.
I am NOT a doctor and please check with a healthcare professional before taking any action on new medications! I am just an allergy-ridden singer who loves voice science!
1. Nasal Sprays*** (Flonase Sensimist, Nasonex, etc.):
If your allergy symptoms consist mostly of nasal congestion, eye irritation, and post-nasal drip, nasal sprays are one of the best for you as far as your voice is concerned.
Nasal sprays reduce inflammation in the nose and therefore stop congestion. Often, they stay in the nose and don’t make their way to the throat at all – keeping your cords safe from the typical drying effects of allergy meds.
That said, you may need to experiment a little with these. Some nasal sprays contain scents that are intended to be pleasing but could really agitate your nose more and make your reaction worse. Other sprays may allow too much medication through the pump, causing a worse stuffy-nose feeling or causing the medication to drip past your nasal cavity and irritate the throat.
(For what it’s worth, after trying Nasonex, Nasacort, Flonase, Afrin, and other sprays, my favorite by far is Flonase Sensimist – no scent and a light enough spray it won’t feel like you’re shoving liquid up your nose #win. It’s different for everyone though!)
***BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL about what kind of nasal spray you’re buying. Daily over-the-counter allergy nasal sprays are not addictive. However, stronger decongestant nasal sprays (even those found over-the-counter) can be addictive or even make your symptoms worse, causing you to rely more and more on that medication. As I’ve said before, do your research!
2. Oral Antihistamines (Zyrtec, Claritin, Benadryl, etc.):
These medications try to prevent or stop the immune system’s over-reaction to allergens.
However, as singers, you should know that these medications “dry you out“! Add at least 8-16 ounces more water to your daily intake.
3. Decongestants (Mucinex, Sudafed, etc.)
These medications decrease the swelling and phlegm-production as a result of allergies. That’s why they work so well.
That said, the outer layer of your vocal cords is… mucous! That mucous membrane is there to protect your vocal cords. So, if you take decongestants (or “super-decongestants” below), be extra aware of how your voice feels, stop singing whenever things begin to hurt, and drink EVEN MORE water!
4. Super-Decongestants* (Mucinex-D, Sudafed-D… anything that you have to bring a card to a pharmacy for them to get from behind-the-counter)
These dry you out MOST!
Only take these if you’re super, super, super congested and take them with a HUGE glass of water. THEN add at least 16 more ounces of water to your daily intake.
(*Not what they’re actually called but I needed a term for them.)
5. Throat Remedies: Sprays, Cough Drops, Lozenges, etc.
These don’t necessarily help allergies, they just soothe the throat if you’re feeling the effects of allergies there.
That said, many of these throat remedies contain menthol, which numbs your throat.
This is DANGEROUS because yes, it helps your throat feel better, but that also means you may push harder or sing in a less healthy way because your throat is numb and you don’t have any negative feedback telling you to adjust or stop!
If you’re a singer, I’d argue NEVER use a product with menthol unless you plan on not using your voice much.
Comment below on your experiences with different allergy medications as a singer!