True story: I got a standard allergy test a few years ago and my doctor told me that in his 40 years as an allergist, he’d never seen anyone who reacted so strongly to literally every allergen. He said he can usually recommend people move to the desert or tundra, but in my instance – I’d still be allergic to things there too!
All that to say: I know firsthand that singing with allergies is HORRIBLE. In college, I didn’t even audition for shows with performances in April or October because I knew my voice would be phlegm-tastically out of commission.
Naturally, I knew I couldn’t just avoid singing during allergy season – especially when I moved to Florida where things are blooming the whole dang year. So, I researched and experimented like crazy.
Now, I’m not a doctor, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It’s always smart to do your own research or talk to your doctor about the information presented here. I’m just hoping this series can provide a springboard for those of you singers who sound like Marge Simpson when the pollen count climbs!
What Allergies Are:
Allergies happen because your immune system is reacting to [insert actually-harmless allergen here] as if it’s about to harm you.
Why? Nobody knows for sure. Genes sometimes play a factor and sometimes they don’t. Environmental exposure can make you allergic to something or exposure can help you NOT be allergic to something. Oh, and allergies can start as a child or your body can just decide to be allergic to something later in life… yay! (#sarcasm)
So anyway, think about when you have a cut. The area around the cut swells and gets red, right? That’s the immune system sending lots of help to the cut to stop any potential infections that may get in. (Anyone else having flashbacks to Magic School Bus right now?)
There’s a similar reaction when you’re exposed to allergies. Inhale pollen? As far as your immune system is concerned, the WORST thing to happen would be an infection reaching one of your vital organs, like your lungs. So, your nose swells and produces mucus so that more infection (i.e. pollen) can’t enter through the nose. Your throat reddens and swells so less pollen can get through there, too. Eyes? They get red and watery so you blink out that bad stuff and it doesn’t get in the bloodstream!
Basically, it’s like the immune system is that overprotective family member that thinks everything is going to kill you. (We all have at least one of those, amirite?) Like, I appreciate your concern and I know you have the best intentions… but really you’re driving me crazy.
Allergies and Singing:
First, if your throat feels completely phlegm-y or sore or swollen, please don’t sing! Try some natural allergy remedies for singers and allergy medications for singers to help. As always, drink tons of water and do your best to avoid hiking your larynx when clearing your throat.
If that still doesn’t work, stay on vocal rest as best you can. If you must sing, use minimal volume. It’s not worth the stress on your cords and any potential damage that may result. Just like our bodies and minds, our voices have good days and bad days too.
Best of luck, fellow allergy-ridden friends! You can make it!