Slightly batty Opera Singing Asthmatic

Hi All,

I've only just stumbled upon this resource and I'm glad to have done so. Im a forty something wheelchair user with asthma. I've been diagnosed nearly thirty years and despite my symptoms being 'controlled' I regularly suffer from chest infections and all the other joys of being asthmatic.

I sing opera as mentioned above and also enjoy playing in a brass band which has helped me improve my lung function although sadly not diminished my symptoms.

I look forward to hearing others experience on this journey we're all on. Please feel free to ask questions, I promise I won't bite, but I may also choose not to answer 😉

17 Replies

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  • I have late on set adult asthma for 10 years very mild until November 2015 when it went south. Now classified moderate allergic asthma with autumn/winter being my worst time.

    Found pilates and swimming good for excerising good breathing technic. I love to sing and have a beautiful soprano voice so I been told.

    My asthma is part of my life and yes its taken time to make friends with the way I am now. I have been blessed with excellent asthma nurse and doctors surgery. Not to mmention you all on the forum who have answered all my many questions and let's not forget asthma UK helpline nurses.

    I hope and pray you all have a good weekend.

  • I've found that keeping up with practise is the hardest thing to do when symptomatic and autumn/winter does seem to be when I'm at my worst, although summer brings its own joys with hay fever exacerbating my asthma as well.

    Do you take part in any formal singing? Or do you just enjoy singing at home? Here's hoping you have a good weekend too x

  • I would love to take part in formal singing but haven't the time. Just sing my heart out at church and to God Hope that one day I will able to use my talent to bless people. Summer I have hayfever but antihistamines and monkelaust cover that.

    My asthma is very well control at the moment doing the scarfie. Cooled stay warm folks.

  • I am glad to hear from another musician! Do you find your peak flows are really good? I have had asthma all my life. In school I played flute, French Horn and Flugal Horn as well as piano. I only stopped when I left home. I also sang in several choirs. I find my peak flows are quite high so that when I am bad, the A&E doctors don't think they are low despite being a lot lower than my "normal". I wish I still played and I am helping the kids to learn trumpet, but my first love is the piano which I play to relax. I wish I could still sing but I am afraid that years of inhaled steroids have ruined my voice. I still enjoy singing at church on Sunday but I miss my youthful voice. Oh well, it could be worse. I have enough to be greatful for. And when the kids aren't as demanding, I will take up piano lessons again so maybe I can enjoy musiuc that way. 😊

  • My normal peak flow is around 650, and it doesn't need to drop much below 550 before I'm seriously symptomatic. Most Dr's look at me gone out when they see my tidal flow as well. Luckily my GP and consultants know me well, but I had an interesting conversation with a GP registrar the other day after listening my chest and hearing a crackle he did a double take. Lol.

    I'd be lost without music in my life and it's a passion I inoculated my children with. Maybe it's the practise but my voice hasn't been too badly damaged by the inhaled steroids.

  • I am glad to hear you are still enjoying your music! My peak flow is similarly around 640-650 at its best. If it drops below 550 I know to be worried. I was in A&E once and the nurse thought 450 was a good reading! At the time I could barely breath and nearly blacked out! It is frustrating, however I think the years of music practice has put me in good stead for later in life. It could be worse! 😊

  • I have barely been able to sing at all since February to April 2015 when I had that nasty flu bug which the flu vaccine failed to prevent.

    That attack was severe (though my then surgery probably didn't take it as seriously as they should have done, though I did have the usual medications Antibiotics 3 loads of pred and just taking more and more ventolin (as well as preventer). Then in March, I just about came out of it - one blissful week of not coughing at night aaaaannndddd....Laryngitis hit! And boy, was that horrid. Its way too TMI to describe what I was coughing up. Suffice to say it felt as though someone had hold of my vocal cords in really slimy hands. Once that had gone, it took 18 months (to this December just gone) for me to get nearly my full range back (I can, or used, to be able to sing the top line in Allegri's "Miserere".

    Last Christmas I was able to sing the soprano and treble harmonies again to Christmas carols and then....got another virus on New Years day this year.

    It exacerbated the Asthma, resulting in hospital visit a month ago to A&E. Viral infection then really came out and though I'm at the end of week 2 back in work, I can barely walk a few yards without getting breathless. Stairs are terrifying (thankfully work has a lift and colleagues and management are fabulous being really careful of me and caring.)

    And my voice...I can barely speak let alone sing. Its probably so silly to get upset about but I really miss singing and I feel like my own body is silencing me let alone preventing me from walking very far or even doing very much without getting exhausted. I can't bear the idea of another 18 months or even another few months of no voice (speaking or singing). The mere hint of that idea and I feel as if I'm grieving for my lost voice which is utterly ridiculous and then I get cross with myself for being so silly.

  • I know how you must be feeling, I'd feel as though I'd lost a limb, if I couldn't sing for that long. It isn't silly if music and singing form such an important part of your life. Be gentle and here's hoping things settle long enough for you to enjoy some serious cobweb removal 😉

  • That's exactly how it feels...like losing a limb!

    I'm going to go back to my NP in my surgery (she has been great this last episode) and see if she can advise. I know she isn't particularly happy about my history of increasingly severe reactions to colds and flu and has already muttered about referring to a consultant. So will see what happens.

    For now, I need to work on just being able to get up and down the stairs without getting severely breathless. Its been 2 weeks since the actual infection went away, but the breathlessness is still there despite taking the inhalers religiously.

  • I really miss singing especially as I had hoped to join a choir when I retired. I can't even join in at Chapel these days without irritating my throat. I recognise that I need to pitch my voice lower now and I don't sing out but it doesn't help. As recommended by posts on this site, I gargle with water after using my inhaler and this keeps my speaking voice going. My asthma nurse referred me to my GP when I mentioned my vocal chord problems as she thought it might be caused by silent reflux. Unfortunately the three prescribed medicines, tried in succession, gave me either extensive rashes or diarrhoea. It's not breathing that causes problems singing but the effect on my vocal chords.

  • It is horrible to be denied doing the things you love, there are ways to regain your voice and pitching your voice lower is one of them. Even on days when I'm not performing I start my day with inhalers and then I gargle to clear any residue. I also drink a lot of ginger tea with local honey as this helps protect my cords. I then spend an hour warming up, until I've warmed up I don't speak. My wife thought it odd when we first met but her and the kids are used to it. During cold weather I always wear a scarf around my neck and mouth when going out.

    The most important thing is not to push your voice too hard. Gently stretch your register by singing songs that you know you can easily sing then introduce Ines that get higher or lower until you're singing bel canto. Hope that helps.

  • Thanks for the tips and I'll try increasing my intake of ginger tea and adding honey. It would be lovely to find my voice again!

  • Great to hear from other singers! I think it does really help and keeps me sane.

    I currently have the joy of trying to stay out of hospital with fairly unstable asthma (awaiting tests) but I'm playing the lead role in a show that starts in 4 weeks - stressed doesn't quite begin to cover it!!

  • Oh Lord! That doesn't sound like a good place to be. I'd say try and resist the urge to worry, but if I'm due to give a performance I always worry about my asthma interrupting my plans. I'll offer 'break a leg' comments and hope you manage to keep out of hospital.

  • Haha thank you!

    Hopefully I should be fine, unless I pick up some sort of nasty bug I can normally adapt my breathing in songs enough to get through them

  • Hi slightly batty lol. Just wanted to say your pretty amazing playing in a brass band and singing opera also with asthma as I can't even sing a full sentence without coughing 😁

    Got a spirometer test in a fortnight so time and I got my peak flow ready to take my readings beforehand.

    Maybe you can tell me if 300 to 350 is a fair reading as I'm trying really hard but unable to get past that number.

    The folk on here here give great advice which I acted on and pleased to be hopefully moving forward to knowing which inhaler is the best one for me.

    How do you manage to sing opera and self manage your asthma so well. 😊

  • Hi Middle,

    I'm lucky in that I've been singing and playing instruments since I was five, so although my asthma is a major buzz kill at times, I've been able to keep my lung function fairly well. I do use Physiotherapy exercises to help me when symptoms are uncontrollable, but singing tenor arias keep me on the edge of the envelope. I was advised to add brass by one of my consultants as I was struggling a few years back. I have days when I can't play/sing but thankfully they are few and far between.

    As for your question about peak flow, don't judge your pf on mine. We're all different, I do believe there maybe some average charts floating about the Ethernet, but it changes with age, weight and symptoms as you're no doubt aware. I can heartily recommend the exercises for cystic fibrosis sufferers and they definitely come in really handy during a flare up for me. Your mileage may differ, but it can't hurt.

    If I can find some way of attaching the programme I follow I'll add it here:

    The exercises and the practise required to master my instruments has helped me to manage my symptoms, along with following my medical teams advice. I've been diagnosed for nearly thirty years so I've had to learn to deal with it to the point I'm only aware I'm asthmatic when I become symptomatic and then a high pf brings it own problems.

    Sorry for the essay. I hope you manage to improve your pf, but don't get too tied down to increasing it easier said than done I know. Someone told me you can't regain lost function, but you can manage the level of decline, and that spurs me on to keep up the excercises.

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