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Allergy & Cold Remedies for Singers

I know that it's only 3 days away from the Summer Solstice, but I have had my first experience this year of just how terrible seasonal allergies and a subsequent summer cold can be, so I have compiled this list of tips on getting back to normal when in the throes of a cold or allergies.

The advice comes from many colleagues and friends (thank you!) as well as my own experience. I hope it can serve as a reference (which might be handy to bookmark for cold season!) and if you're suffering currently, I wish you a speedy and complete recovery! :)

Over-the-Counter Medicines:

Claritin/Allegra/Xyzal: doctors say that Claritin is the mildest anti-allergy medicine (in pill form) and Allegra is the next strongest, followed by Xyzal, which is the strongest. I've not tried any of these so I cannot speak to their effectiveness.

Flonase: over the counter nasal spray which is a synthetic steroid and supposedly helps with decongestion. My disclaimer: when I used it once before going to bed, I woke up the next morning with swollen and ultra-dry vocal folds which lasted 1.5 days and felt like sandpaper. I have never used it again!!!

GeloRevoice: sorry to say that this is only available to buy in Germany, but if you've got someone you know auditioning there or vacationing there, ask them to pick you up a tube. It's a lozenge which coats your vocal folds in a hydrating film that protects them and helps them to heal. It's especially useful if you've overused your voice or you've got tired folds from a lot of coughing, or just a really sore throat in general.

Mucinex: some say it's too drying for them, some say take a half a dose, some say it's their go-to drug to get rid of phlegm. However, a vocal-medical professional friend of mine says it's not proven to help and might really just dry you out. Either way, good to know about if other things might not be working for you.

Neti Pot: helps with decongestion and runny noses as well as sneezing. Make sure to use this only with spring or purified water; it burns quite a bit in your nasal passages if you use tap water.

Saline Nasal Spray: this is just like the Neti Pot but a bit less intense- also helps with decongestion, runny noses and sneezing.

Healing Foods:

Apple cider vinegar (with "the Mother" included- check the label!): this is acidic which helps cut phlegm. Can be drunk (or gargled) when diluted with cold water but also is recommended to be taken with warm water, lemon, and honey, as a sort of 'tea'.

Asian pears: are acidic and supposed to rid you of phlegm.

Coca-Cola (regular- not diet!): supposedly works for removing phlegm from the vocal folds, but it's only a very temporary fix.

Green apples or any raw apple in general: are acidic and are supposed to cut the phlegm on the folds. I've tried this one recently and was surprised by its effectiveness!

Turmeric (liquid concentrate, capsules, tea): gets rid of vocal fold swelling. This is my ultimate surprise winner in effectiveness for allergy sufferers--- I used it for one day and my vocal fold inflammation went away for 2 days following- it's honestly awesome and works like a charm for me! I use the stuff you can get in liquid concentrate form which I buy either via or at Costco.

Natural Supplements:

Bromelian: a pill that you can take made from an enzyme extracted from pineapple cores (and found in other foods too) which reduces swelling. This is also good to use if you get swollen folds during your period.

Fenu-Thyme: helps with alleviating seasonal allergy symptoms. I've tried it and it works for me.

Lobelia Extract: an herbal expectorant, so if Mucinex dries you out, try this. Though, consult your doctor or pharmacist first, since high doses can lead to vomiting and be poisonous.

N-acetylcysteine (a.k.a. "NAC"): You’ll have to go to a supplement store to get it. Thins mucus but is not drying. Can cause stomach upset.

Quercetin: helps reduce vocal fold swelling and inflammation and is also helpful in reducing allergy or asthma issues due to its natural antihistamine properties.

Holistic Remedies: 

Acupressure Massage Points for Lungs and Throat: Should help with decongestion if you press them for 30 seconds each.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil/Peppermint Essential Oil: a colleague recommended smelling these oils in order to stop a dry cough or the tickle that you get in your throat when you're suffering acute allergy symptoms. Either way, they work well for both of these issues.

Gargling with--tonic water, warm salt water, warm water with baking soda, apple cider vinegar: all should reduce phlegm on the vocal folds. Some may work better for you than others, but they are all effective.

Oil of Oregano: is supposed to help with getting your voice back if you've lost it due to hoarseness or overuse. You can buy it at most heath food stores and the recommended dosage is 2-5 drops under the tongue. It's not the tastiest thing ever, but usually quite effective short-term. In fact, it's pretty commonplace for choir singers with tired voices to use this an hour prior to performance, though using it in this way should be done with caution so as not to overtax your tired voice which can cause permanent damage! You can also gargle with this using the same amount of drops diluted in lukewarm water.

Steam Inhalation: use a small steam machine to inhale steam and clear sinus congestion and remove mucus from your vocal folds. Nearly all singers swear that this is an effective method. You can also add a drop of Eucalyptus Essential Oil to the water in your steamer to get a stronger decongesting effect.

Vea Oris: (sorry- this one is also only available to buy in Germany!) a throat spray which is just super-concentrated Vitamin E, that, once sprayed on your uvula and in the back of your throat can prevent a cold coming on if you catch it early enough, since it is antibacterial and super-ultra-moisturizing.

Teas & Drinks: (my favorite category!)

Hot water, honey and lemon/ Hot water, honey, ginger and lemon/ Hot water, honey, ginger, lemon and cayenne pepper/ Hot water, honey, ginger, lemon and fresh garlic: all reduces phlegm, honey has anti-bacterial properties, lemon is acidic so will cut phlegm, and the hot water will help to open your sinuses- the ginger will too if you make it a strong batch by slicing the ginger extra thin and first soaking it in the water you'll be using cold (in a pot) and then bringing that same water to a rolling boil. That will make a much stronger and spicier ginger-tasting tea. The cayenne should help to decongest your sinuses. The garlic and the honey are both antibacterial.

Licorice Root Tea: gently encapsulates your vocal folds in a gentle film to make them feel better if they're sore. Does not remove phlegm, simply makes painful folds less painful.

Mallow Blossom Tea ('Malvenblueten Tee' in Germany, where I found out about it): gets rid of long-lasting residual phlegm in your lungs and your sinuses. I've tried it and it works for me!

Pineapple juice (source of Bromelain): acidic to cut phlegm and reduces the swelling of your vocal folds if they're swollen and not coming together fully. You can also take Bromelain in a pill form or to get the most concentrated amount you can juice the core of a ripe pineapple and drink it.

Sage/Peppermint Tea: a colleague and friend recommended these herbal teas to get rid of phlegm and while I do believe that they are useful for that purpose, you should make sure not to over use them, because mint and sage along with menthol are actually drying to your vocal folds and should only be used sparingly by singers.

Stinging Nettle Tea: can be used to reduce the symptoms of flu, so in turn is helpful with colds too. This is a diuretic though, so be sure to also drink a lot of water in conjunction with using this.

Thyme Tea (fresh is most potent, but dried works too): this is one of my go-to's for getting rid of sinus infections or colds that masquerade as such. It works wonderfully to get rid of sinus congestion!

Vegan Golden Milk: (coconut milk in the can, almond milk, ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper and coconut oil) helps with protecting the vocal folds, getting rid of inflammation and decongestion. Recipe here:

Water: Without a doubt the most important thing you can do whether you have a cold or allergies is to drink as much water as you possibly can in order to keep all of your mucus membranes moist while simultaneously flushing out all the gunk that's clogging them up, and also re-hydrating your body (since getting rid of all that gunk is also getting rid of your body's moisture). So, drink even more water than you would normally when you are sick or dealing with allergy symptoms. The recommended daily water consumption according to the Mayo Clinic is 2.7 liters for women (11.5 cups) and 3.7 liters for men (15.5 cups), with even more required if you're doing intense exercise, breast feeding, pregnant, or just in a humid and hot region and sweating a lot. So, remember to drink your recommended daily amount of water in order to optimize all of the above suggestions!


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