Stuffy noses, congestion, and itchy sinuses can all take their toll on your voice. These are of course bad news for singers but are also increasingly common.
Can seasonal allergies cause a hoarse voice? Yes, but there are ways to combat a croaky voice caused by allergens. Find out how hay fever, pollen and other matter attack the respiratory system, so you can better prepare to combat and prevent the effects.
In this article, we’ll explain why these issues may be arising, which mediations to avoid and what alternative remedies will be most effective.
Can seasonal allergies cause a hoarse voice?
Yes – 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 it 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 the larynx.
Many allergies arise when pollen levels are high, particularly when around flowers or cut grass. Weather forecasters will often include the pollen count in their briefing, as it affects so many people. Some individuals 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.
Allergies and hoarseness
When your voice is hoarse, your range and pitch will change. It will either sound weak and raspy, or deep and harsh. 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.
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 bad habit or affectation.
Allergies voice problems
Having 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
Singing while hoarse means you strain your vocal cords to force them to close properly, causing them to swell and limiting your range. And you probably won’t be able to hit all the high notes.
How hay fever affects your voice
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 affect your voice?
Allergies can target your sinuses, leaving you feeling stuffy and congested and giving you a headache whenever you try to perform. Sinus problems can massively affect the quality of your voice.
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.
Laryngitis and hay fever
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. Laryngitis often stems from other illnesses like colds and flu too. Hay fever presents a lot of the same symptoms as common colds – postnasal drip, congestion, and sore throat.
The symptoms of laryngitis are hoarseness, significant voice loss, and a dry, scratchy throat. These can all be caused by allergies. Taking a complete voice rest is the best option when you have laryngitis. If you try to sing at this stage, you risk setting back your recovery and prolonging the voice loss. You may have to refrain for just a few days, but it’s more likely you’ll be out of action for a week or two, vocally speaking.
The best antihistamine for singers
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.
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.
Which allergy medicine is best for hay fever?
If you’ve lost your voice due to allergies, the best way to recover is by treating the allergy itself.
Here are some 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 pineapple
Here are some more ways you can boost your voice when it’s struggling with seasonal allergy symptoms.
- 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
The best allergy medicine for singers
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, try some alternative ‘medicines’ to treat your hoarseness.
- 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
- 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 and clean the filter out regularly
- Avoid clearing your throat
- Don’t whisper
- Rest your voice
When you’re following a healthy lifestyle as a singer, losing your voice to allergies can be confusing. Especially when winter allergies can target your vocals, too. Fighting hay fever and allergies can feel like an endless battle – especially if it’s impacting your vocal ability. But they don’t have to stop you performing. You can keep hoarse, congested tones at bay during allergy season by following the advice and suggestions we’ve provided.
- Why is my voice croaky when I sing?
If you’ve noticed your voice has become croaky, it may be due to any number of things like allergies, laryngitis, smoking, thyroid problems, trauma to the vocal cords, postnasal drips, acid reflux, laryngeal cancer, colds and chest infections, stress and anxiety or overuse of your voice.
- Do I have a sinus cold or allergies?
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.
- What is the difference between hay fever and allergies?
Hay fever comes under the category of allergies. Not all allergies are hay fever, you may have an allergy to washing powder or a type of food for example. Allergies can target your respiratory system and leave your voice raspy. Hay fever is one of the worst culprits for impairing your voice.
Have you suffered from hoarseness caused by allergies or hay fever? Let us know if you’ve got any helpful tips or home remedies in the comments below.