I have been experiencing a rather odd and debilitating problem with my playing off and on for the last several years. As I play I will begin to feel pressure in my nasal cavities, as if my nose was plugged by mucus. When I try to blow my nose, there is no mucus present. This pressure will build and build as I continue to play. At some point, a “break” occurs – I suddenly lose air support and experience a quick and sharp exhale of air through my nose. After this occurs, I am unable to maintain a constant air stream for more than a few seconds. If I speak very soon after this occurs, my voice sounds nasal, as if my nose is plugged. Since I cannot keep a steady air stream, I am unable to play for several hours after this occurs.
I have consulted with both my general practitioner and an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist regarding this issue. My ENT diagnosed the problem as a swelling of tissues in the nose called the turbinates. These tissues are responsible for humidifying the air entering and leaving through the nasal passages. An x-ray of my nasal cavities showed one of the turbinates to be enlarged. At the ENT's recommendation, I started on prescription nasal decongestant spray. This did not have any definite effect. I then had a procedure called a “somnus reduction.” In this procedure, an electric current is run through the turbinate, temporarily shrinking it. This too has had no discernible effect. My ENT says that the next step would be to partially remove the turbinate tissue, which I am hesitant to do.
Sometimes I can play for hours without experiencing this problem, while at other times it occurs after only five or ten minutes. I have not been able to relate it to allergies or environmental conditions of any kind.
My question is thus: has anyone experienced anything similar to this, or are there any saxophonists with medical training who may be able to provide any insight?
I am 18 years old and have been playing saxophone for 8 years. I play mostly alto and soprano. I am also a bassoonist (for four years) and experience the exact same problem when playing bassoon. I do not have asthma or any other respiratory condition. I will be a double music performance major next fall on both horns (school starts in a month) and need to be able to play without this occurring.
Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.