As someone who was diagnosed with asthma around the age of 7, it’s been my life longer than singing has. My symptoms are generally mild, and I’ve never been hospitalised, but my diagnosis does still affect my day to day functioning.
A few years ago, I went to my routine asthma appointment and discussed my medication as usual. As a result of the appointment, my asthma nurse transitioned me onto a new daily inhaler. The new inhaler helped with my symptoms as expect, but it also had the effect of almost instantly improving my top range! I gained three or four extra notes almost overnight.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, firstly, because if you suffer from asthma, getting the right medical treatment can make a huge difference to your singing. Secondly, I genuinely believe that my singing lessons have helped improve my asthma.
Asthmatic Singers: Getting the Right Medication
If you are diagnosed as asthmatic, when did you last see your asthma nurse? In the UK, all asthmatics should see the asthma nurse at their local GP surgery at least once a year. For under 16s, that should be every six months. If you’ve not seen anyone about your asthma in more than a year, the first thing is to give your GP a call, and see your nurse. It takes 15 minutes a year, and could save your life.
Asthma UK has a short test they’ve called “The Triple A Test” which can help you determine if you are at a high risk of an asthma attack. However, if you find yourself struggling to breathe, or getting wheezing or coughing symptoms, you should make an appointment to see the asthma nurse or your GP rather than waiting until your routine checkup.
Singers use their lungs as the “power” for their sound, and so all singers need to take good care of their lungs. I’m a big advocate of the important of a healthy lifestyle as part of good singing practice. For asthmatics, this means we need to be on the right medication.
As singers, it’s also important to pay attention to your breath control. If you are struggling to sing through phrases, or need to snatch breaths more often, it is worth making an appointment to see your GP/asthma nurse. If you are newly diagnosed, tell your GP that you sing. If you’ve just taken up singing lessons, let your asthma nurse know at your next appointment. Part of the care you should get at an asthma check-up is a personalised asthma management plan, and your singing should be considered when making that plan.
Why Singing Can Help With Asthma
One of the core things singing lessons focus on is breathing. Part of learning to sing is learning to control the muscles that help us breath, and to build strength in our lungs. This is really important for asthmatics as it improves general lung health.
Many singers also find that practicing breathing helps when they feel that first indication of their asthma “flaring up”. While singing techniques are unlikely to help in a full-blown asthma attack, they can help to slow down the cycle of panic which can worsen asthma symptoms. Deeper breathing also helps to get more oxygen into the lungs, which means less gasping for breath.
Although there’s been little research directly into what Asthma UK calls “complimentary therapies”, they do say that “some people with asthma find that some complementary therapies and treatments help to relieve stress which can be a trigger for asthma. Others have been shown to help reduce asthma symptoms, such as breathlessness.” Singing is likely to fall under both of these categories. I have certainly found that using singing breathing techniques have been helpful, both to keep me calm, and to help my symptoms pass (alongside using my inhaler).
Of course, singing lessons are not designed to replace medical treatment, and singers should never stop taking their asthma medication without being told to by their GP or asthma nurse. However, if you’re asthmatic, don’t be afraid that your diagnosis might prevent you from succeeding at singing. It’s far more likely that singing will benefit your asthma.
If you want to know more about controlling and manging asthma, please visit Asthma UK’s website, or call their asthma nurse helpline on 0800 121 62 55.
For international readers, a simple google search will usually bring up your local organisation, but here are links for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, The Asthma Society of Canada and the National Asthma Council Australia, all of whom have advice on getting treatment and managing the condition.