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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 2, No. 9

The Throat Doctor

by Françoise P. Chagnon / June 1, 1997

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Hello, my name is Emily and I am an 18 year old college freshman from Oregon. Earlier this year my new voice teacher noticed that my voice had some "frogginess". I had previously attributed this to my feeling of having the beginnings of a cold. I went to my primary care physician several times and tried all types of antibiotics. When this didn't seem to help, I went to a local throat doctor who completed a fiber optic laryngoscopy and said that my vocal cords looked slightly swollen and reddened due to some post-nasal drainage. I went to an allergist and found that I have allergies to all types of molds, grass, trees, pollen, etc. I have begun taking injections for my allergies in addition to Claritin and the nasal spray Flonase--neither of which have seemed to alleviate many of my symptoms.

My questions are: 1) How much should I be singing with "slightly swollen" vocal cords? My throat doctor wasn't very familiar with the special needs of singers and couldn't help me with this question. I have been advised by my voice teacher to try vocal rest, which I haven't done yet. 2) Do you know of any side effects of the nasal spray Flonase that would be of concern to singers? I have noticed that I feel more drainage when I use it and it would seem like this would only further aggravate my vocal cords.

Emily Esther Rice, Oregon, US

Dear Emily,

The first line of treatment for allergies is a combination of topical intranasal steroid spray, systemic antihistamines and immunotherapy (ie: "allergy shots"). Compliance with therapy over the long-term is important.

Persistence of post-nasal drip while on treatment may signal the presence of sinusitis. Sinus radiographs may be warranted. Switching to a non aqueous nasal spray is sometimes useful in decreasing post-nasal drip. You should always clear your throat of any residue of the nasal sprays by gargling with salt water after their use.

Allergies can affect your voice by the accumulation of tenacious secretions and swelling on your vocal cords. While singing with slightly swollen vocal cords you will note a decreased vocal range and a breathiness or fuzziness in higher pitches. This may strain the vocal mechanism and injure the vocal cords. Rest your voice every day. You should also consider an evaluation for concomitant allergy induced asthma.

Dr. Chagnon

Françoise P. Chagnon is the Director of the Voice Lab at the Montréal General Hospital

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