The Throat Doctor
by Dr. François P.
Respiratory dysfunction in vocalists and
Minor respiratory dysfunction tolerable to
the general population may be disabling to the performing artist.
Respiratory dysfunction undermines the performer's "support" and
leads to excessive muscular tension in the throat, face, jaw, tongue
and neck. As a result, wind and brass players may complain of lip
and throat pain, inability to sustain long notes and general
performance fatigue. Singers may sense a loss in the upper vocal
range. Various conditions weaken respiratory support, including
improper technique, lack of exercise and poor aerobic conditioning.
Proper training in breathing technique and abdominal support
provides higher tidal volumes of respired air and lower air
retention in the lungs during performance.
Pulmonary dysfunction, particularly
undiagnosed asthma, produces the same effect as if the performer had
not taken in enough air. Classic asthma symptoms (shortness of
breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness) may be induced by
allergies or by exercise and may be exacerbated by sinusitis or
bronchitis. Even musical performance is a form of exercise which may
induce asthma. In a typical case, breathlessness occurs after 20 to
40 minutes of performance. Attempts to compensate for the decreased
breath support by increasing the technical demands on the larynx can
result in vocal cord nodules and polyps.
Susceptibility to asthma may be diagnosed by
specialized pulmonary function tests. Treatment with inhaled
anti-inflammatory or broncho-dilating drugs should be individualized
to meet seasonal, environmental and performance requirements. Since
even one exposure to one allergen may worsen asthma for several
days, compliance with treatment is essential. Treatment of any
concomitant nasal allergies may help prevent asthma. Even mild
degrees of pulmonary dysfunction should be treated to optimize
respiratory function during performance.
François P. Chagnon is the Director of the
Voice Lab at the Montreal General Hospital