asthma, breathing, singing

Are You Wheezing?

Diana WinklerDiscussion, Health, Music


asthma, breathing

Originally posted on October 24, 2012

As singers, we know that our instrument is an extension of our body. It is quite different than someone who plays a guitar, because our voice is subject to our health, our diet, our stress level, and environment.

If I am a guitarist and get sick or have asthma, I can probably suck it up to get through a gig or performance. It isn’t ideal if you don’t feel good, but at least you can play. With singers, if I can’t get enough air, then I can’t sing. Period. No one likes to hear someone croak out a melody or gasp for air after the first song.

I would like to include those that play a wind instrument, like a trumpet, trombone, flute, horn etc. You are another group that needs air to play your instrument. So, what are we to do? Since I had an asthma flair up this last couple of weeks, I wanted to pass on some tips that have helped me get through.

I didn’t grow up with asthma.

I didn’t get diagnosed with it until about 4 years ago. I never had allergies until I moved back to Phoenix area in 1999. I lived in the Phoenix area as a child, but don’t remember having either allergies or asthma at all. It is probably from the fact that Phoenix is more polluted than ever before. The air is so very dry too. It used to be people came to Arizona to cure asthma because of the dry heat, but that has all changed now.

We have plants that are imported here that are not native to Arizona. We have more pollution, and dry air. A big combination for asthma and allergies. So, depending where you live, you may be worse or better off than me.

I went to Lake Tahoe one year when I had asthma real bad, and it all but disappeared when I was there. The air was so clean! When I flew back to Phoenix, I started wheezing again. I wish it wasn’t so cold up there. I would live in Tahoe!

So, the traditional options for asthma sufferers are good ol’ fashioned drugs.

Ahem, The legal kind. I work in a pharmacy during the day, so my knowledge of medications are more substantial than most people. I usually know more than the doctors, and drive them nuts! haha! The more I know about drugs, the less I want to take them! Anyway, here are some of your options:

Advair: an inhaled steroid. You take it twice a day. It reduces the inflammation in your lungs. Not a rescue inhaler though! I usually take the Advair twice a year until my symptoms go away. I don’t have asthma all year long. You may have to take it all year long depending on your situation. Keep in mind, long term steroid therapy might cause weight gain and horseness. Watch out for that.

ProAir: This is your rescue inhaler. Sometimes I use it 2-3 times a day. Sometimes never. If you are using it more than a few times a day you need to go to the doctor and get a better long term treatment plan.

Ipratropium and Albuterol Nebulizers: These are one of those drugs you need a fancy machine to use. I only use it during my worst days because it takes a good 10 minutes to inhale a vial of medication on the nebulizer. Tastes nasty too. But it works.

Then you have the allergy meds.

Singulair: It is an allergy med that blocks the chemicals your body releases when exposed to an allergen. These chemicals cause swelling in your lungs and airways, which can trigger asthma symptoms. My doctor told me that the post nasal drip I have every day from allergies, contributes to my wheezing. This is not a rescue drug either. The only thing I would caution you about with this one is that it messes with your sleep and moods. I do not take this drug personally because I had issues with mood fluctuations and sleep problems. I’d rather deal with wheezing. Most people don’t have any problems with it. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have a history of depression, melancholy, or nightmares. The good news is that it just went generic, so it is cheaper.

Flonase: Is an inhaled nasal steroid. You use 2 sprays in each nostril before bed. Doesn’t smell good. It takes a couple of weeks for it to work, so be patient. It helps with the nasal allergy symptoms. I tried this med and it didn’t help me that much, but for most people, it works well. Comes in a generic. Another similar drug is Nasonex, but it doesn’t have a generic, so it would be pretty expensive.

There are many other allergy and asthma meds out there to try. These are what I use. I’m not a doctor, so this isn’t medical advice. I am sharing what has worked for me. You can then talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

Non Traditional Methods for Treating Asthma.

I have a Naturopathic doctor as well as an Allopathic (conventional) MD. I have learned a lot about how my body works from my naturopath and how to treat my asthma without drugs. It is not quackery, as I can see some of you rolling your eyes. A lot of it makes perfect sense, so hear me out.

Adopt An Anti-inflammatory Diet.

Asthma simply is a disease of inflammation of the lungs. If you decrease the inflammation in the body, then you will avoid many health problems related to it, like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, and lupus.

Some foods to avoid: Red meat, dairy products, high sugar content, processed food, and white flour. Am I telling you you have to give up all these foods? No. But when your asthma is really bad, you may want to eliminate these foods until you feel better. I don’t drink any milk products at all because I’m allergic to milk anyway. Sometimes I eat cheese. When I have a flair up, I cut out the cheese. It makes a difference for me.

Foods to include more into your diet: Fish,(like Salmon), olive oil, colorful fruits(berries) and vegetables,(broccoli), whole grains, nuts (like almonds), Asian mushrooms, ginger, cinnamon, tumeric, green tea, white tea, and good quality dark chocolate.

Check out Dr Weil’s book on the Anti-inflammatory diet. He is one of my trusted sources.

Supplements To Try

Vitamin D3 is a great supplement if you has asthma. Take 5,000 IUs every day. Reduces inflammation in the lungs and increases immunity.

Fish oil is recommended for many health benefits. If you don’t like to eat fish, try taking some fish oil capsules. If you’re worried about the smell or after taste, there are many products that don’t have that burp problem. Nature Made has a burpless variety, which is the product that I use. I take 3 capsules a day, but I also eat fish regularly.

Garlic has lots of health benefits too. It has antiviral and antibacterial properties, and it is an anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol lowering herb. There are plenty of odorless garlic products out there too. I use Kyolic brand, but I also cook with a lot of garlic too.

Don’t forget to take a good mulivitamin, calcium, and probiotic for overall health. Don’t buy cheap vitamins like Centrum. Get pharmaceutical grade supplements. You get what you pay for. Brands that I use are Pure, Jarrow, and Progressive Labs. You will tell the difference. If you can’t afford the expensive vitamins, the middle of the road would be Nature Made and Trader Joe’s brand or Sprouts brand.

Lots of Clean Water

You’re thinking, what does water have to do with asthma? A lot actually. If you are dehydrated, your body can”t get rid of the toxins and mucus in your lungs. Most of us are not drinking enough water, and consume too much caffeine. Your voice depends on moist vocal chords. Drink more water and less coffee and soda.

Get Enough Sleep

Some of you are  skipping over this part. But don’t! You may think that the subject of sleep is boring, and unrelated to the subject at hand, but it does make a huge difference! Lack of sleep leads to stress. Stress leads to inflammation!

Sleep is the time when your body heals, recharges, and burns fat.(The fat part is a bonus.) Don’t short change your sleep for anything! Melatonin is great for getting to sleep with out taking a typical sleeping pill. If you have sleeping problems, get some help for that. Your voice isn’t going to sound good on four hours of sleep.


I have some exercise induced asthma, but it doesn’t stop me from being active. I have my inhaler nearby and try to exercise indoors away from allergens. Exercise increases lung capacity, even for asthma folks. You don’t have to run a marathon.

Just get your heart rate up and do something you enjoy every day. It also activates those feel good hormones that we all like so much! Yoga and Pilates are great for increasing breath capacity. Swimming is great too, but avoid chlorinated pools if you can.

Vocal Exercises

I’m going to assume you do vocal exercises regularly, but if you don’t, I would highly recommend a regular routine. Working with your voice every day will increase your lung capacity, and help you to gauge the extent of your asthma from day to day. Pick exercises that work your diaphragm.

Amazon has a lot of books and CD’s with breathing exercises. The best program for you depends on your vocal ability and what genre you sing. Read the reviews carefully to pick the best one for you.

Blowing up balloons is a great exercise. Volunteer at a bunch of kids’ parties lol! Swimming games that require you to hold your breath are fun to do with the kids too. Be mindful of the chlorine in the pools.

Use A Humidifier

This has made a big difference for my breathing. Obviously, I live in a very dry climate. You may not want a humidifier if you live in Florida. I put mine on at night before bed and it keeps my lungs and throat moist. I got mine at a thrift store for $5, but you can buy a good quality one at Amazon new for about $40.

Shower Before Bed Instead Of The Morning

During allergy season, you go outside and all the environmental stuff gets on your hair and clothes. You bring it into the house. You lay in your bed and put it on your pillow. You breath it in while you sleep. A viscious cycle. If you take a shower, wash your hair and sleep in clean sheets, you will have an easier time with breathing.

Don’t sleep in the same t-shirt you wore that day. If that isn’t practical for you, at least get a wet washcloth and wipe down from your head to your feet to get all the allergens off you before you go to sleep. Wash the sheets in hot water if you don’t already.

Buy An Air Cleaner

I’ve have one for years. Not cheap, but it is easy to maintain, and has worked for me to keep the indoor air clean. You can find some good ones with a Heppa filter online that fits your spending budget. Try to get one that you don’t have to buy replacement filters for. It gets costly.

Dust And Vacuum Regularly

Most allergy and asthma sufferers already know to keep the homes free of dust and allergens. I don’t have pets, so I only need to dust once a month. The carpet holds a lot of allergens, so keep it vacuumed every week, and shampoo every few months. Getting rid of carpet and switching to hard floors is key if you can do this.

Stay Away From Chemicals

Stay away from bleach, air fresheners, cleaning chemicals, and smoke filled rooms. I use Simple Green for pretty much everything. Vinegar and water for glass. You may not like green cleaners, but Simple Green works pretty good for all my chores with no toxins. Chemicals are a huge asthma trigger.

Stay away from smokey rooms. Dana Reeves, wife of Christopher Reeve, died from lung cancer. Although she was a non smoker, she sang in smoke filled bars and nightclubs. Arizona is a smoke free state now, so I don’t have to deal with smoking sections in restaurants. I also don’t perform in venues where smoking is still permitted, like bars or American Legion Halls.

I don’t have family or friends that smoke. If I meet someone that does smoke, I ask them not to smoke in front of me. They are usually compliant with the request when I tell them I can’t breathe! If you smoke and you’re a singer, I don’t know why you’re even reading this. Obviously you shouldn’t smoke. I am hoping you are at least trying to quit. There are many new methods out there to quit smoking, so don’t give up!

Use A Netipot Everyday

I discovered nasal irrigation years ago, and I have been using a netipot ever since. It has done wonders for my asthma, allergies, and overall nasally discharge issues. If you don’t know what a netipot is, basically it is a teapot looking device that puts warm saltwater up one side of your nostril and comes out the other nostril. You may be thinking that I’m nuts, and that it sounds really gross, but hear me out. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Easy and painless, I assure you. It has really made a difference in my health.

I urge you to give it a try. I don’t use a traditional netipot. I have a product called Sinus Rinse made by NeilMed. You can find them in almost any drug store. If not, you can purchase one online. It is like a squirt bottle, similar to those Ocean saline bottles. The kit comes with measured saline packets that you pour into the bottle, and add purified warm water to the indicated line to get the correct mix. I usually take mine into the shower with me because it is easier. You put the squirt bottle up to one nostril, tilt your chin DOWN to your chest. As you exhale through your mouth, you squeeze the bottle gently so the water goes up your nostril. It will automatically come out the other nostril. Blow your nose gently. Then proceed with the other nostril.

It is important to follow the instructions for dilution. Shake the bottle before using or the water will burn! Don’t use tablet salt either. If you want to try the SinusRinse for free, NeilMed has a facebook page, and they give away free starter kits. The refill salt packets are pretty cheap to buy. Let me know how it goes.

Don’t Sing When You’re Sick

There are very few times in my life when I sang when I was sick, and I regretted it. But sometimes the show must go on. If you get sick or get an asthma flare up right before a performance, you have to decide if you can afford to cancel it or get someone to take your place.

If I have a cold, a sore throat, and coughing, I have to cancel. Singing when your vocal chords are probably inflammed or raw will give you vocal problems down the road. Polups and nodules on your vocal chords are not worth any performance. Look at famous singers who had to have vocal chord surgery because of abuse to the voice. Julie Andrews can’t even sing anymore. She acts more and writes children’s books now. It’s a shame. I loved her voice.

When You Must Sing With Asthma

If you just have trouble breathing, but you don’t have a cold or infection, then there may be some emergency steps to get you through. Be sure you’re taking all the asthma medications above that you’ve been prescribed. Adopt the anti-inflammatory diet right away. No caffeine.

Tons of water and warm decaf beverages. Extra sleep. Do your warm-up exercises for your voice as usual. (I sure hope you do warm up exercises!) Eucalyptus Oil sprayed onto a tissue and inhaled works well to open up your breathing. The oil is found in health food stores.

There is also a product called Bronkaid that I use as a final resort. It is a bronchodialator in pill form. Similar to the Primatene tablets. It is sometimes hard to find them in local pharmacies. It takes a half hour for the Bronkaid to work, so plan accordingly! It is not to be used longterm! It has ephedrine in it with the bronchodialator. It doesn’t require a prescription, but you have to sign for it at the pharmacy counter.

I was able to breathe almost normally to get through a performance. Make sure you drink a lot of water with it because it dries you out. Your voice will crack if you don’t have enough water with this stuff. Also, take it with some food or light snack. Your heart will race a little. You’ll feel almost euphoric on this stuff. That’s the epinephrine talking. If you have any heart problems, blood pressure issues or thyroid disease, talk to your doctor first before taking this!

So this is pretty much how I live with asthma with my singing. I sing on a regular basis, and usually do pretty good. I’d like to hear what you do to cope with your asthma! I also want to know if you have applied anything in this blog that has helped you.