Dear Dr. Jahn,
I`ve heard some singer friends are using nebulizers to keep their voices in good condition. Honestly the word `nebulizer` sounds `science-fictiony` but the idea of it being just salt water sounds safe. Would there be any benefits to me jumping on this bandwagon or is it just a trend like wearing “healing crystals” around my neck??
A nebulizer is a device that vaporizes liquids by fragmenting it into tiny particles. It is different from a steamer because you can also nebulize liquids that are not normally volatile, such as oils.
While a nebulizer has many important medical uses ( e.g. for asthma, croup, cystic fibrosis etc.), I would not recommend that you use it routinely to “maintain your voice“. First, you may nebulize materials that shouldn`t be in your lungs in the first place. Secondly the nebulized material is carried father into bronchi and lungs than steam, and can remain there to cause problems.
We use nebulizers to treat specific conditions but not routinely, and certainly not for maintenance. And, unlike wearing the crystals around your neck, nebulizers can be potentially harmful especially if used for the wrong indication, or indiscriminately.
Having said that, nebulized saline can help to loosen secretions in the airway. The saline of course should be sterile and the nebulizer clean. You should buy 0.9% sodium chloride (a.k.a. “physiologic saline”) solution in a sterile container at the drugstore.
By loosening dried mucus, the saline restores the ability of the tracheal and bronchial cilia to move mucus out of the air passages. A good application for this might be bronchitis, or a cold that has “moved south” from the back of the nose.
I would however not recommend using a nebulizer routinely or “for maintenance” - it should be for specific symptoms only and, ideally, with some input from a medical professional.
I really want to underscore the dangers: a very famous soprano put herself out of business by inhaling nebulized oils “to moisten her vocal chords”. She developed lipoid pneumonia and could no longer sing.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).
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