Allergy Control Tips for Festival Season – Especially Kerrverts!

By Terri Hendrix

(LSM June/July 2010/vol. 3 – issue 4)

bullfrogAs I write you, the bullfrogs are croaking in a creek cradled by an overgrown field nearby. I feel lucky that I get to hear them for free, this “Bullfrog Symphony,” and have become a great fan of not only the volume they exude, but their stamina as well. They can croak the notes all night and never lose their pitch.

Unfortunately, what sounds great coming from a frog, sounds horrible coming from our pipes. But give us a little oak pollen, grass and a mixture of who-knows-what blowin’ in from who-knows-where, combine it with some caliche and late nights kickin’ up the “kerr-dust” at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and we have ourselves this same Bullfrog Symphony in our throats. Try talking, and you’ll sound like you’ve gargled gravel. Try singing, and you’ll sound slightly worse than Marge Simpson. So this year, as many of you make your way out to Quiet Valley Ranch to partake in singing, dancing, talking, camping and enjoying the great outdoors, I’m passing along some tips that will hopefully help you enjoy your Kerrville time with less coughing, hacking and sneezing. That way, hopefully you’ll have a clearer voice to sing with … and to holler with when it comes time to call the kids out of the river and back to the campground.

Before I delve into this any further, should you choose to try some of my suggestions, please make sure none of them interferes with medication you currently take. I’m a pretty big fan of chasing down my doctor, seeking help from medical professionals like ENT’s and checking drug interaction books and websites that address both Western and Eastern medications, herbal or otherwise. Still, I’m only going to list remedies that are without major controversy in the medical community. This is all stuff that’s worked well for me over the years. And I’ll also share a few mistakes I’ve made, just to help you avoid doing the same.

First off — and I know this might not be an option for you campers — but if you can, use a humidifier. They can really help tame allergies, not to mention help with the prevention of bronchitis, especially during flu season. I also can’t say enough good things about acupuncture. As a matter of fact, the AOMA (Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin) has had volunteers for years backstage at Kerrville, treating performers and staff alike, and I’d personally stick those needles in my face and leave them there the entire festival if I could get away with it. When I have regular treatments, it seems to help with inflammation and allergies, and as a result, it strengthens my immune system.

Humidifiers and acupuncture treatments may not always be readily available, but the number one thing you can do at the festival is hydrate your vocal folds. There’s a common phrase voice teachers seem to like: “pee pale.” As gross as that sounds, it’s true. It means your body is properly hydrated, and that will help your allergies get better. But of course, it’s not always practical to drink the recommended 2.79 liters of water, much less see the color of your urine in a festival porta pottie. When I can’t always drink as much fluids as I need to, I moisten my voice and sensitive nasal membranes with Entertainers Secret, a throat spray I order online. I’ve seen festival stages littered with this stuff. I personally have tried pretty much every vocal spray on the market, and this one is the least drying and has consistently worked the best for me.

Now that your pipes are moist, your next chore is to get yourself a netti pot kit, if you don’t already have one. Using a netti pot isn’t much fun, but it sure cleans out the nose and all the nasty allergens before they take root in your nasal and sinus passages, pour down your throat and make you hoarse. That’s no fun, either.

Next: drugs. I avoid anything 24-hour over the counter. But in duress, I do take 12-hour Claritin D. I take this only when the allergens in the air are beyond my ability to control holistically — and I never take it on a day I have to sing, because it’s too drying. Nasonex has worked wonders for me, but it’s expensive — and alternative brands of it didn’t do squat. Afrin dried me out so bad I couldn’t blink, much less sing for an entire day. Most singers like to cut a 600 mg (not 1200 mg — check the box!) Mucinex in half a couple of hours before they sing. This thins out the mucous along the vocal folds and makes for a clearer voice. Thayers Slippery Elm and Ricola Lemon throat lozenges are also good, as is Organic Throat Coat Tea. Oh, and if you ever feel a sinus infection coming on, hot green tea, honey and lemon will help clear it up.

Finally, the hardest part: diet. By now, we all know that we are what we eat. If you like the type of foods I like, then acid reflux can cause all types of issues in the voice box. To counter them, I’ve had great success with Aloe Vera juice, Quercetin (a natural anti-oxidant) and probiotics. I get my probiotics from Goat Yogurt (of course), or fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi. That said, if you get me anywhere near a bag of Julio’s tortilla chips, a bowl of Pace medium picante sauce and queso, I’m gonna eat it. All common sense is gonna go by the wayside no matter what’s on my agenda. I’m also like this whenever I come across a bowl of spicy chili (with beans!) or tres leches cake. Needless to say, all of the above is horrible for not only heartburn, but allergy control, too, and definitely on the list of “what not to eat” if you want a clear voice with which to summon the capo for your guitar when your turn comes around at one of Kerrville’s famed after-hours campfire circles.

Well, it’s late now, and my dog Buddy is not only snoring but being a couch hog to boot. The bullfrogs have gone to bed, too, and so should I because rest is just as important as hydration when it comes to building a healthy immune system. And with the Kerrville Folk Festival right around the corner — not to mention my garden right out my back door and Texas soil and pollen everywhere — I need my immune system in tip-top shape. As for all of you Kerrverts reading this, I just know you’re gonna drink those fluids, avoid alcohol, get your eight hours of rest (while camping), and eat that kimchi: not. But at least you’ve now got some tips to review for your own personal regimen when it comes to battling allergies and overall vocal duress. Because even if you love the sound of that Bullfrog Symphony as much as I do, trust me: they don’t need any new members.