Singing Lessons by Ken Tamplin

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Allergens and The Voice


Most everyone is allergic to something. No one seems to escape entirely. Our immune system is our safeguard in protecting the body against harmful substances such as bacteria and viruses. An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to the ingestion of any number of substances (allergens).     

If a person has allergies, breathing in an allergen causes histamine and other chemicals to be released as part of the immune response. Many of the symptoms caused by allergies include itching and swelling, the production of mucous, wheezing and in more advanced cases, hives and rashes may occur along with a variety of other severe symptoms. Many of these allergy symptoms produce post-nasal drip in the form of mucous that irritates the throat and may result in a cough. 

It’s easy to see why many of the symptoms caused by allergens may have an adverse effect on the vocal instrument. And while it may be easy to stay away from some allergens, many are simply unavoidable. For example, house dust contains many potential allergens, such as pollen, mold, fibers from clothing and fabrics, household detergents, microscopic mites and even dead human skin cells. Found in bedding, mattresses and box springs and furniture fabrics, dust mites are the chief cause of dust allergy.  Undetectable by the naked eye, these mites leave dropping everywhere they go. Leftover enzymes which the mites use to digest skin dust are contained in their droppings.  It’s these enzymes that are responsible for causing many allergies including asthma.

Now, let’s explore “housekeeping for the voice” and the steps you can take to eliminate many of these allergens and protect your voice as you LEARN TO SING. Some of these steps will seem elementary, but they can be surprisingly effective. To capture dust mites, it is important to vacuum frequently, especially with a small-pore filter vacuum. Most people never think about vacuuming their mattresses, yet it can help to remove some of the skin dust on which the mites feed as well as some of their droppings.  Better still, wherever possible, damp dusting is preferable to vacuuming.  Since it is difficult at best to remove all dust mites and their droppings , It is beneficial to eliminate as many “dust catchers” in the home as possible such as rugs, bed ruffles or canopies, cloth-covered furniture and curtains. You may find that purchasing special covers for mattresses, box springs and furniture will also help reduce dust mite allergens. If possible, you should wash rugs, bedding and furniture coverings weekly. While cleanliness is important in removing dust and mites, the moisture in the air also has an effect on their presence.  Dwellings in temperate climates and normal altitudes have more mites, while those in very cold areas or high altitudes have less. In general, it’s best that you do not let humidity build up, but keep your dwelling ventilated as well as possible.

Allowing excessive humidity in the air can actually be dangerous in maintaining healthy lung and vocal fold function. The byproduct of too much dampness and humidity can cause mold or mildew to form on fabric, usually in a basement or bathrooms and washrooms.  Although it’s not likely that anyone would allow mold to grow in their house, mold spores that are difficult to detect can be present in fabrics, rugs, stuffed animals, books, or wallpaper, especially if they are frequently in contact with water or kept in a damp environment.   

Allergic reactions caused by inhaling or simply touching mold may include respiratory problems such as infection and/or difficulty in breathing, nose and throat irritation, nasal and sinus congestion and runny nose and other symptoms, all of which can affect  the normal functions of the vocal instrument.   

Toxic chemicals called mycotozins are present on the spores and small mold fragments that when released into the air can damage one’s health. Even those who don’t suffer from allergies can be affected by high concentrations of mold fragments, spores and mycotozins. Not only can these toxins be damaging to one’s ability to sing, but they also increase susceptibility to a weakening of the immune system that can lead to a wide variety of diseases.

 Since molds tend to grow more rapidly in poorly ventilated areas with little air circulation, it helps to keep windows open as often as possible. Using a dehumidifier or by exercising other methods to keep rooms dry will also help to minimize exposure to molds. Whenever possible, it’s recommended that you use synthetic fabrics for clothing and household furnishings. It’s also a good idea to frequently disinfect bathrooms, basement walls, and other areas that may be exposed to damp conditions. Reducing the development of mold spores by sealing air leaks around doors and windows and providing the dwelling with fresh filtered air via a mechanical ventilation system will also help to ensure that indoor humidity levels are ideal.

As any accomplished VOCAL COACH will tell you, ridding your house or apartment of toxins, dust mites and other allergy causing agents will help keep your vocal instrument healthy and allow you to perform at your very best. 

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