Yup! It's officially springtime! It’s that time of year when hay fever begins its yearly assault on our voices.
If like me, you’re a singer, or even a professional voice user, that suffers from hay fever, finding the right information and managing symptoms can become a real pain. It’s just another thing to add to our daily checklist to maintain our vocal health.
Unfortunately, there’s no sign of a cure for hay fever and, to be honest, vocal pedagogical research on allergens and the effects on the singing voice is almost non-existent at present.
We can, however, learn from ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialists, general information and experimentation which treatments and remedies mitigate our symptoms and help us to maintain a healthy voice.
In this article, I want to address why we suffer from hay fever, what affect it has on the voice and to provide some useful tips on how to relieve hay fever symptoms and keep singing.
Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:
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WHAT IS HAY FEVER?
Hay fever, also known as Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis, is caused by the body’s allergic reaction to pollen.
According to the Met Office, 10 million people in the UK suffer from hay fever; that’s one in four adults or one in ten children. And the number of sufferers is apparently on the rise. If you’re a sufferer…keep reading!
WHAT CAUSES HAY FEVER?
Pollen that causes hay fever symptoms comes from two sources; trees and grass.
In the UK, you can typically expect tree pollen between late March to mid-May; grass pollen mid-May to July; and weed pollen from end of June to September.
WHAT ARE HAY FEVER SYMPTOMS?
The most common hay fever symptoms include:
Swollen, itchy or watery eyes
The effects on the voice are rarely mention in the general literature but hay fever tends to have two effects on voice:
Pollen causes irritation and inflammation of the vocal folds, which can induce hoarseness in both the speaking and singing voice.
Nasal/sinus congestion can inhibit our ability to breath properly for singing.
The good news is that the severity of hay fever symptoms improves with age.
WHEN CAN YOU EXPECT HAY FEVER SYMPTOMS?
As mentioned above, the hay fever season typically runs from March to September. You are more likely to suffer or feel an increase in the severity of symptoms when the pollen count (the number of pollen grains per cubic meter of air over a 24-hour period) is high. For example, a pollen count of <50 is considered low, whereas a pollen count of >1000 is classed as high.
The intensity of the pollen count usually depends on the weather conditions. Like on sunny days the pollen count is probably going to be high. On rainy days, it’s more likely to be low because the pollen is washed away. And cloudy days the pollen level actually builds up and releases on the next sunny day. (I did not know this!)
It’s perhaps on these cloudier days, and we have many during British summertime, that we should be more mindful of preparing and continuing our treatments. The level of pollen is not the only consideration for hay fever sufferers. Nope! The severity of your symptoms may also be affected by where you live.
According to the Met Office, the north of England has a later and shorter pollen season than the southern counties. And, as expected, rural and inland areas generally have a higher pollen count than urban or coastal regions. So, this is something to take into consideration when managing your hay fever symptoms or perhaps where you take holidays.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS AND REMEDIES?
This is probably the most common question I get from my students. And honestly, the answer is not quite as straight forward as you might guess.
Before thinking of your vocal health, firstly, you have to consider managing your hay fever symptoms.
General hay fever treatments and remedies fall into three categories: preventative, defensive and relief. Preventative treatments and remedies
Preventative treatments and remedies are there to reduce, as much as possible, pollen entering your home and work environment. If you’re symptoms are severe you may want to consider:
Removing outdoor clothing, showering and washing hair on high pollen count days
Keeping home and car windows closed (especially at night)
Vacuum regularly (ideally with a hoover fitted with a High-Efficiency Particle Arresting (HEPA) filter
Avoid having fresh flowers in the house
Avoid drying clothes outside (especially on high pollen count days or when cutting the grass)
Avoiding walks in grassy area (especially in the early morning and early evening)
Installing pollen filters in your car
Humidifying your home or work environment
Eating local honey
Defensive treatments and remedies
The most popular, and common, solution to managing hay fever symptoms is antihistamines. Antihistamines (as the name suggestions) work by blocking histamines that cause hay fever symptoms.
Wearing sunglasses when outside
Drinking plenty of water
Putting Vaseline inside your nostrils
Whilst antihistamines might be your go-to treatment during the hay fever season, it’s worth knowing that for some singers’ antihistamines are also the cause of increased hoarseness.
This is because antihistamines are designed to dry up mucus to help relieve congestion. In doing so it also dries the vocal cords, causing hoarseness.
As we know, prolonged periods of hoarseness can lead to bigger vocal problems, if not suitably resolved.
>>Related<< Ultimate Guide to Vocal Health
If you suffer from hay fever, taking antihistamines and you are experiencing hoarseness try either taking the tablets at night (if the severity of symptoms is mild) or alternatively switching to a nasal spray.
Personally, I used to take the tablet form of antihistamine but noticed that when the pollen count was high I would develop hoarseness, in both my speaking and singing voice. It was mild and barely noticeable to anybody else but I hear and feel it.
Since switching from the tablets to the nasal spray I’ve found that my hay fever symptoms are effectively managed and I don’t develop any hoarseness; even on those high pollen count days.
Relief treatments and remedies
Relief treatments and remedies such as nasal sprays usually help with persistent symptoms like congestion but can also be used in addition to defensive treatments. Do check first with your doctor or pharmacist before combining medications.
If your hay fever symptoms are severe or symptoms of hoarseness persist, do seek professional advice from a medical professional.
They will be able to offer either further investigation from a qualified ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialist or prescribe suitable medications not available over the counter.
Singers may also think about:
Steaming to keep the vocal cords hydrated (although this only works in the short term)
HOW CAN SINGERS’ RELIEVE THE AFFECTS HAY FEVER?
The difficulty with hay fever is that like all other areas of vocal health, there are no rules or prescriptions that fit all. You alone will know your symptoms and the severity.
It is up to you to learn to manage the balance of keeping hay fever symptoms under control without compromising your voice.
It may take some experimenting, try:
Switching to a nasal spray
Monitoring the daily pollen count
Reducing exposure to pollen by implementing preventative treatments and remedies
Recording and tracking symptoms and treatments to work out what works and what doesn’t.
This may seem like a laborious task but if you’re a hay fever suffer, then it’s going to come around every year. Whether you like it or not! It’s worth the time and effort!
The best solution is to prepare yourself with an arsenal of treatments and remedies and be ready when hay fever attacks. If your symptoms are severe and you’re struggling to manage by yourself. Please do seek medical advice. Hay fever should not stop any one from singing.
But, by having a better understanding of your symptoms and having the tools to manage them means that each year you will know how to relieve hay fever symptoms and keep singing. Because that’s what it’s all about….keeping singing.
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