Allergies and the Voice
Updated: Mar 6
Most people associate allergies with the classic symptoms seen on commercials: itchy, watery eyes; runny nose; and sneezing. However, far more often, allergies present subtly, and in a way that is quite sinister when it comes to voice: postnasal drip.
What is postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip is the term for mucous that drips down the back of the throat. Mucous forms in glands throughout the respiratory tract, and much of it forms in the nose and sinuses. The body produces a significant amount of mucous – about 1-1.5 liters per day. The vast majority of nasal mucous slides down the back of the nose, into the throat, where it is swallowed.
The symptoms of postnasal drip are noted when nasal mucous changes in quality or quantity. For example, when suffering from a cold, mucous is produced in a greater quantity. It also becomes thicker. When this drips down the back of the throat, it is sensed as postnasal drip.
Do allergies cause postnasal drip?
When an allergic reaction occurs, mucous production increases, and the contents of the mucous are more inflammatory. This is why sufferers will often wake up with a sore throat in the morning. They have been lying down all night, during which the allergic and irritating mucous has dripped into the throat, causing discomfort.
Allergies occur when the body falsely identifies a benign particle, such as dust, as a pathogen (i.e., virus or bacteria). It launches an immunologic response, including nasal inflammation and increased mucous production.
How does this affect my voice?
Allergies and postnasal drip will affect the voice in two ways:
Laryngitis – Postnasal drip results in irritating mucous contacting the vocal folds, particularly at night. This will result in vocal fold swelling (see video below). Symptoms may be severe (i.e., raspiness, decreased range) or subtle (i.e., delayed onsets, prolonged warm up time). Over time, this increases the risk of injury and may become permanent.
Decreased nasal resonance – nasal structures, called turbinates, become inflamed with chronic allergies. Turbinate inflammation results in less nasal airflow and less of a resonance chamber for sound. This makes the singer sound congested, and less resonant. Over time, this may become irreversible and require surgery.Image 1