The allergy medicine Claritin contains antihistamines that help clear up a runny nose, but can also potentially dry out the vocal cords and cause damage. For singers and other people who need a clear voice professionally, the effects can be devastating.
What is Claritin?
Claritin (loratadine) is an allergy medication that contains antihistamines. It works by blocking a natural chemical in the body known as histamine, which is responsible for allergic symptoms like itching, runny nose, sneezing, eye irritation, and skin conditions.
Claritin is available over-the-counter, but there is also a prescription-strength version called Claritin-D, which also contains the decongestant pseudoephedrine.
Claritin and Voice Damage
Claritin alleviates symptoms of allergies by drying up the body’s mucous. The problem is that vocal folds much be coated in a thin layer of mucous to maintain the flexibility they need to vibrate correctly. If the vocal folds dry out, they can be damaged or even scarred by inflammation and abrasion.
Experts have been warning about this risk for years, but many people are still unaware of the risk. According to “How Allergies Can Wreak Havoc on Your Voice,”, a warning from Dr. Michael Pitman:
“If antihistamines dry up the mucus in your system, your vocal folds become dry and stiff like sandpaper, which means there’s extra abrasion when they vibrate. This can lead to inflammation and a raspy, strained voice that takes extra effort to use.”
Vocal Cord Dysfunction
Vocal Cord Dysfunction can be exacerbated by the use of decongestants, which thicken secretions and dry up the vocal folds. As a result, the person must increase subglottal pressures needed for speech.
FDA Warning Letter for Misleading Claritin Ads
The manufacturer of Claritin was cited by the FDA for marketing it without providing adequate risk information. The warning letter (PDF) was issued in August 2000 after Schering-Plough Corp. ran full-size ads for Claritin in several health magazines. According to the FDA:
“This full-product ad is misleading because it fails to provide any risk information relating to side effects and contraindications (including warnings and precautions) to balance the effectiveness claims.”
Claritin Class Action Lawsuit
Soon after the FDA warning, Schering-Plough Corp. was hit with a class action lawsuit. According to the complaint, studies found that Claritin performed only slightly better than a placebo and failed to provide allergy relief in 50% of cases. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2003 after a judge found that misleading advertising claims amounted to “fluff” rather than “fraud.”
Side Effects of Claritin
- Itching / swelling (especially of the face / tongue / throat)
- Trouble breathing
- Allergic reactions
- Vocal cord thickening