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Singing in poor outdoor air quality?

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hi everyone. As a Celtic folk player and singer, I often play outdoors in the summer months in southern Ontario, where the air quality can sometime be quite poor due to smog, heat and humidity. I can feel the bad air days in my chest and throat even though I don't have allergies (tight chest, sore throat).

Apart from the ever-present water bottle, are there any tips and tricks all the festival players should keep in mind to maintain their vocal health through all the outdoor gigs?

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Are you sure the cause is the air quality due to smog, heat, and humidity? Most U.S. cities have these. Also, for most people, indoor allergens are far worse than outdoors. I have trouble with L.A.'s smog, but not with other cities. What I'm suggesting is figure out what the cause is first.

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Yep, pretty sure it's tagged to air quality - I don't have any allergies and the sore throat and tight chest only kick in on "bad air days" here. On days without smog advisories I'm fine. Just trying to work out a strategy for preparing for outdoor gigs now, given the seemingly steady rise in bad air days where I live. I've always got water on stage, but if there are other things I could/should be doing to keep the throat/voice limber and working properly during an outdoor show, I'll certainly give them a try!

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I'd rather not get into personal medical history on the forum, but yes, I have been tested for allergies. I look at air pollution as a more or less unavoidable environmental hazard, and short of dropping the gigs (!) there's not much that can be done to lesser its impact. I'm looking for practical suggestions to ease the effects of bad air on the voice.

I'm already pumping myself full of water before during and after outdoor shows. Does anyone have other tricks or tips that work fo them?

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Hi Celtic Charlie

It's not easy I know. I don't have allergies to pollens etc. but when I do outdoor gigs here in Greece, there is some kind of pollen or grass in the air that gets my throat as soon as I walk out of the house.

I have found that water on it s own doesn't work, you need water and something a little thicker to lubricate the throat muscles. A warming drink is best to keep them relaxed too. Here are some things I have used in the past. I have never used throat sprays and other singers do recommend them and slippery elm. You can find these through Scott Rabb on Just Gotta Sing who is here on the site.

I have used:- a cup of coffee with milk ..just one.. before I go on stage ( the mind is usually more uptight then to) once you start singing and relax into the show the water usually is enough after that. Depends on length of spots, show etc.

I have gargled with sage tea as this is antibacterial and soothing. (Drink a small amount)

I have had a dark rum with blackcurrant juice and peppermint cordial in it (only small) it lubricates very well! Often had to have blackcurrant only with it.

Blackcurrant juice on its own with warm boiled water helps too.

I drink ginger tea regularly and that works too as it is anti bacterial.

You also have to keep your mind barrier free. If you keep thinking about the problem with air quality or whatever , that will make it worse as you start to worry about your singing.

Sometimes a little alcohol doesn't hurt, especially brandy/cognac. Although it can dehydrate, it is the purest alcoholic drink and has an initial warming and relaxing action for nerves and muscles. Only one small glass though is all you need. I have used a small shot glass if it has been necessary.

The other thing you could consider is taking a nutritional supplement of oxygen as it helps the immune system and purifies. CoQ 10 also helps utilise oxygen better in the bodys cells.

Hope that helps? Drop me a line if you need anymore advice personally

love & blessings Hilary :lol:

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when I used to sing at outdoor festivals, main problems were dryness and wind in the mic. The wind problem is up to audio crews and gods-of-weather... and perhaps Ontario is humid, so throat drying out isnt a big risk like here in Los Angeles?

For allergies: I'd suggest using a neti pot (nasal rinse) shortly before the show and again in-between sets, if this is something you can manage at the sink in a public restroom.

Also talk to your MD about a prescription steroid nasal spray-gel (flo-nase, beconase are among the common versions here in USA). This might help counteract your body's reactions to the allergens, e.g. swelling and congestion, in a localized way & limited time. Once inhaled, most of the stuff stays in nasal area (good) but a little will spread into larynx. So if you go this route, be sure to try it out on a non-gig day, so you get familiar with the subtle effects and time frame (singing feels the same at first, but an hour later feels a little different?). Be sure these drugs do NOT include an active decongestant (Afrin, neosenephrin) because those will dry out voice very quickly.

There are homeopathic remedies for various allergens, worth a try if there is a good homeopathic pharmacy in your area. Again I don't know what's available in Canada.

Otherwise, best you can do is keep body generally strong: with good nutrition, non-allergenic Vit.C/bioflavinoids/Quercetin, exercise, de-stressing etc., so that you're physiologically in the best shape to manage these environmental stressors.

Allergy-related references I found very useful when writing my book on voice care www.tinyurl.com/cazden-book:

Brostoff, J. and Gamlin, L. (2000). Asthma: The Complete Guide to Integrative Therapies. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Gagnon, D. et al. (1990) Breathe Free: Nutritional and Herbal Care for Your Respiratory System Lotus Press WI

Schachter, N.(2006). The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu. New York; HarperTorch.

best regards - from a Celtic music fan!



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Consider examining what and how does the bad air affect you. If it is affecting the nasal cavity, and the nasal cavity mucus drains into the throat and then irritates the chest, try using Mucinex. If it's chest, is it mucus or is it particulate matter?

The body frequently reacts to cumulative conditions, that is, once one surpasses a threshold, one gets ill. The outdoors is difficult to control, so you may want to reduce your exposure to indoor aggravators, so as to reduce the impact of outdoor aggravators.

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Also, different people react differently to treatments. Roobois tea is suppose to help with allergies, but when I drink it, my mouth also feels dry. So, unless you can determine what and how you are aggravated, suggested remedies are guesswork.

My opinion is that this is true even if you've been to doctors and had allergies test. The body is very complicated, and physicians need to take a lot of time and various test-trials to determine what a rarer condition is. This can be very, very expensive. So, the best first step, in my opinion, is to read a lot about how the particular part of the body works, how your condition is affected, and then work with an expert to try various methods of solving.

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