Singing/Competing with a Cold

Singing/Competing with a Cold (and Other Maladies)

Reprinted from the November 1997 North Shore Harmony Rag

(While cruising the Harmonet earlier this month, we encountered a fascinating series of messages offering advice about coping with colds, throat discomfort, nasal congestion, and sinus problems when faced with the immediate need to sing in a contest or big show. Probably all of us have had to deal with this type of problem at some time during our barbershopping career, and perhaps this feature can offer some short- and long-term solutions. Thanks to Helen Giallombardo, Ron Brooks, Rob Scott, and Jay Dennis, who posted the messages used in this article. Your dutiful editor has cleaned up some of the spelling, punctuation, and grammar.)

Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 11:50:28 -0500
From: (Giallombardo's Et Al)
Subject: Re: Singing/competing--with a COLD

From the "We Get Letters/E-Mail Dept."

Since we seem to receive many posts along the lines of this below, I thought I would cc you all into my response. Here goes:

"Hi" Helen,

Oh boy! Wouldn't you know it. Down with a bloody cold on Monday and competing on stage in XXXX (Int'l/Dist/Reg/Area)'s quartet contest. I've done just about everything imaginable to conquer this thing and feel I'm "almost" there. I'd certainly appreciate any advice you or Jay might have as to how to prepare myself prior to "breaking the curtain and doing my damndest."


I should mention that one of the two songs we are singing in our first set is Jay's arrangement of "XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX." Man, how we love singing that song. Anyway, if you find the time to drop me a line, I'd appreciate hearing from you--or Jay. I DON'T WANT TO LET THE OTHER THREE DOWN!!

Cheers, In Harmony,
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (name X'd out to protect the semi-innocent)

Run out (don't walk) and buy the following items at your nearest pharmacy:

a) Cold-Eeze (zinc lozenges)--start sucking on them NOW--one about every four hours--keep them in the middle of your tongue--the zinc components in these lozenges helps keep the cold germs from replicating further in your mucous passages in the throat, etc. They work--but only if you manage to do this in the (fairly) early stages of the cold. WARNING: use them only AFTER you eat your normal meals. The zinc makes the REST of your food/drink taste funny (no joke). But then again, with a major performance coming up, who cares about food?!

b) Either 12-hour Chlortrimeton (green box) OR four-hour Benadryl--I prefer the 12-hour Chlortrimetons--less of a "rebound" effect. These are taken to help stop the drip--the major challenge with any respiratory ailment (cold and/or allergy). If the drip is not stopped, other "complications" such as laryngitis, earache, bronchitis, etc., may set in.

DO NOT BUY ANY COLD OR COUGH MEDICINE WITH SUDAFED/PSEUDOEPHEDRINE (READ THE FINE PRINT ON THE BOX/LABELS)--that stuff is terrible for singers--just makes the junk in your nose run even faster and puddle on your vocal cords--stay away from that stuff.

c) Saline Nasal Spray to loosen up the nasal "crud" followed by a (yes) 4-Way Nasal Spray "chaser"--watch the Nasal Spray dosage and only use it if the nasal stuff backs up into your ears/eustachian tubes--AND (MOST IMPORTANTLY) be prepared to swallow all that junk a LOT--do NOT let it drip down into your chest where it can cause OTHER problems like bronchitis and laryngitis, etc.

I like the 4-Way Nasal Spray because it seems to be less harsh than some of the other nasal sprays on the market. The menthol (green writing on the box and bottle) is even better than the red, if you can find it. I do NOT believe in getting addicted to or advocate frequent/chronic use of Antihistamine Nasal Spray--BUT when the circumstances dictate needing clear nasal passages, this is the stuff to use.

At the grocery store, buy pineapple juice--fresh, if you can find it, otherwise, the canned or bottled Dole will do--drink lots of it, especially when you're warming up for stage. It helps shrink any inflamed throat apparatus--truly. Gargle with it if you can stand it.

DO hot steamy showers--drink the hot water, let the hot water hit your face where your sinuses are--hot compresses to loosen up more nasal junk. Keep the humidity in your hotel room going--take along a humidifier if you have one. They really help--hotel room atmosphere is notoriously "death" on a singer's voice.

Let me know if you need more help and/or how your quartet's performance turns out for you.

At your service--
Helen Giallombardo

Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 23:18:43 -0400
From: Ron Brooks
Subject: Singing/competing--with a COLD

Several folks have mentioned remedies for singing with colds, and I have a quick thought about that! Well, I have suffered for 10 to 15 years with dreadful colds and sinus infections. I tried everything, including visits to the ENT and regular family doctor. Antibiotics, over- the-counter drugs and nasal sprays, everything! I couldn't even breathe at night when I would lie down; I would scare myself and think I wouldn't be able to get enough air (panic attacks). This always happened around contest time, too, spring and fall. In fact, one year I had to be put on steroids to keep from wheezing and coughing, just to get through a quartet contest. It was our best score ever--go figure. Anyhow, I was reading a magazine, and it talked about what I had been dealing with; it said if you ever have these symptoms, you probably have allergies. I called my doctor, asked him to refer me to an allergist; he did. I was tested, found out what I was allergic to, and made some changes to my house, including filters on the duct work, an allergy-free filter on the furnace, and encasements for my bedding. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new lease on life, healthy for contests and NO nasal sprays of any kind. I FEEL GREAT! I urge you, I beg you, go and get checked. You may be surprised. I'm now on "Allegra" (very musical, I think); they're 12-hour capsules. I can't believe what it feels like to be able to breathe all the time and sleep soundly. My wife even says I snore less; "Breathe Right Strips" do the trick for that! I hope this helps my sisters and brothers in harmony.

Ron Brooks, (One who suffered for years with sinus problems:)

Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 12:25:58 -0700
From: Rob Scott
Subject: Sinus help. Eliminate dairy products?

I've read a few of the posts regarding sinus difficulties and thought I'd make another suggestion.

Dairy products stimulate mucus production in our throats and sinuses. My wife (who is/was a health care practitioner) strongly recommended that we eliminate all dairy products from our diets. It worked. My sinuses are much clearer.

Eliminating all dairy products from your diet is pretty tough to do, but if you are one of those people who have chronic sinus difficulties, it may be worth the trouble. You could experiment with this idea by trying it for a week to see if it helps. No milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. (This has also been found to greatly reduce or even eliminate the occurrence of ear infections in children.)

P.S.: Whenever I treat myself with a bowl of ice cream or a big feed of pizza, I get instant phlegm and usually a touch of bad breath. My sinuses are definitely affected by dairy products.

Rob Scott

Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 11:18:30 -0500
From: (Giallombardo's Et Al)
Subject: FOLLOW-UP Re: Singing with a cold

Dear Helen,

Boy, I wish you had sent this message about a week and a half ago. Maybe we wouldn't have been competing on stage with 25/70 of our chorus with the same respiratory infection. We thought it was germ warfare! Even the director had it. Anyway, I am printing a copy to keep around for reference and maybe publish in our chapter bulletin if that's OK with you.

I have really enjoyed reading your posts to the Harmonet and was looking forward to meeting you and other folks at the gathering in SLC, but--I was too sick to go. Oh well, maybe next time.

FIRSTNAME LASTNAME, Front row bass and former International Medalist

Hi again--one other addendum to my previous post (if you can handle keeping IT on reference/file for your chorus, too! :-)

I've said this before on the Harmonet, and I'll keep saying it again, as long as necessary, if some singer out there is suffering:

If you seem to be experiencing nasal/respiratory problems at about the same time every year, it is PROBABLY NOT A COLD, BUT AN ALLERGY! And, quite frankly, general practitioner physicians are amazingly not very astute at distinguishing the difference when asked by singers like you and me, "Hey, Doc, I've got a big show/contest/gig coming up and I need some help--I think I've got a bad cold." They usually end up prescribing antibiotics and so forth for the OTHER problems (bronchitis, ear aches) often caused by the constant post-nasal drip instead of prescribing ALLERGY medicine (i.e., straight antihistimine). This oft-misguided and/or unnecessary overprescription of antiobiotics for this kind of "ailment" is contributing to proliferation of the now-resistant bugs of OTHER kinds of more serious diseases (tuberculosis comes to mind).

In other words, if (a) you are not running a fever, and (b) over-the-counter cold/allergy medicine (Chlor-Tri-Meton, Benadryl) is NOT doing the trick, then you probably have a SEASONAL ALLERGY and should run, not walk, to an ear-nose-throat doctor, who will evaluate ALL of your symptoms and who will probably ask for a very thorough case history ("Have you been experiencing these same symptoms during this time of year in PAST years?"). He/she (ENT Doc) will probably prescribe antihistamines FIRST and antibiotics ONLY if there is some other infectious complication that has arisen because of the overproduction of nasal mucus (ugh!).

See what happened to Ron Brooks when he did this : [Refer to his previous post, printed above.]

I've run the gamut of over-the-counter AND prescription antihistamines. SPECIAL NOTE: Not every antihistamine solves the same allergy problem. In fact, I was prescribed CLARITIN, for example, when I was experiencing my voice-outage problems prior to the SAI Contest in Reno (November, 1994). CLARITIN was only marginally successful (turns out I have a "mold" allergy), and I found that HISMANAL has done the trick for me for mold allergies (I have had some success with Chlor-Tri-Meton for pollen "problems," too).

Obviously, ALLEGRA works great for Our Mr. Brooks!

Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 19:28:34 -0500
From: Jay Dennis
Subject: Re: Singing/competing--with a COLD

I would suggest one change to Helen's cold remedies. I finally got wise and started going to an ENT for my sinus/allergy problems, and he has done wonders for me. The best thing is that what I believe to have helped me the most is a nonprescription solution. He recommended that I use Alkalol instead of saline as a nasal spray. It has the following ingredients: alcohol (2/100 of 1%); thymol; eucalyptol; menthol; camphor; benzoin; potassium alum; potassium chlorate; sodium bicarbonate; sodium chloride; oils of sweet birch, spearmint, pine, and cinnamon. It can be used from either half to full strength, preferably warm, and can be applied to your sinuses using either a douche cup or atomizer. I just bought a saline nasal spray and dumped it out, refilling it with the Alkalol instead. It keeps the sinuses moisturized as well as being a mucus solvent and cleaner. The menthol, etc., also helps to keep the sinus passages open. I usually get severe sinus infections, and since I started using this stuff I was actually able to beat off a sinus infection that was in its early stages. I had never, repeat NEVER, been able to do that before!

As far as getting the stuff, your local pharmacy may not carry it, but they can order it for you. It's nonprescription, so there shouldn't be any problem getting it for you. It's also pretty cheap. The four-ounce bottle of saline cost me just under $5, and I was able to get a 16-ounce bottle of Alkalol for just over $2.50.

In case you're interested . . . the doctor that recommended this stuff to me is Dr. Wayne Kirkham, ear, nose, and throat specialist. He specializes in working with singers, too. He was recommended to me by my chorus director, Jim Clancy, who swears by him.

Best of luck, and I hope this helps you out . . . if not for this contest, then in the future . . .

Jay Dennis
Bass--Vocal Majority, Tonal Eclipse

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