Is poor air quality to blame for your singing problems?

From Bono to the Beijing Opera, singers have learned the hard way that poor air quality can make even the greatest vocalists sound like finalists on “The Voice.”

Rock band U2 reportedly leaves Las Vegas off its tour list because lead singer Bono won’t perform in the dry, dusty air of Sin City. Grammy Award-winning singer Adele moved out of London and into the country to escape damaging smog and air pollution after vocal-chord surgery. Beijing Opera star Mei Baojiu recently said air pollution is destroying his voice as well as the voices of other performers in the Beijing Opera.

Birds that can’t sing

Research has shown that pollution can even affect the ability of birds to sing on key. Researchers at Cornell University found that black-capped chickadees exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) lost their ability to properly sing a two-note mating song.

The songbirds in the study live along the Hudson River in New York, near a now-closed power plant that dumped 500 kilograms of toxic PCBs into the river more than 40 years ago. Hormone receptors in the birds’ brains are affected by exposure to environmental PCBs, causing the chickadees to sing off key.

Primary environmental hazards for singers

A paper published by the University of Illinois School of Public Health identified the primary environmental hazards that affect singers’ ability to sing. They include:

  • Low humidity.Adequate moisture is critical for lubrication of the mucous membranes around the vocal chords.
  • Airborne particles and dust.This includes ambient pollution as well as dust particles from costumes, props, etc.
  • Chemicals.Smoke, fog and other special effects can significantly affect vocal performance.

What about “Vegas Throat”?

So-called “Vegas Throat” is a condition known to singers who work in Las Vegas. The condition describes a chronic, hoarse, gravelly sounding voice. Medical experts say the dryness and irritation that accompany the condition results in a change in vocal quality. Many Vegas singers complain about this condition.

Dryness, dust, air pollution and even pollen are among the causes of Vegas Throat. And when hot, dry winds and towering dust clouds hit the Las Vegas area, the condition is made worse.

How singers cope

Whether it’s the dry, dusty air pollution of Las Vegas or the smog of Beijing, some vocalists have learned to fight back by taking steps to control the air, at least when they are indoors.

Performers should avoid remaining directly in front of fog or smoke machines during rehearsals and performances. They should also insist on adequate ventilation in dressing rooms to help mitigate exposure to chemicals used to generate stage effects.

Singers who work in Las Vegas or other dry, polluted areas, should avoid spending unnecessary time outside when conditions warrant. They can also take steps to control the air at home and in rehearsal areas.

Meet Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno, a singer who has performed in Las Vegas hit shows such as “Jersey Boys,” relies on his IQAir HealthPro Plus to keep the air clean when he rehearses at home. Having clean air at home helped Faugno, who began his singing career on Broadway at the age of 12, continue to perform the lead role in “Jersey Boys” as well as other Vegas productions.

Amateur singers, from church choirs to holiday carolers, can also benefit from the same advice the pros follow to manage air quality. Of course, poor air quality may not be the only reason you can’t hold a tune. But it’s one cause you can do something about.

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