Q. How can I clear my head?

Published in SOS February 2006
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I have an odd, but I'm sure not uncommon, problem that I hope your experienced staff can help with. This time of year the outside world is an especially ghastly, germ-ridden place. During a rare occasion out of the studio last week, I managed to catch myself a cold. This would not normally be a problem, only I had some very important work to complete and mix by the end of the week. So, replacing the biscuit tin with a box of tissues and a mug of Lemsip, I soldiered on. However, all my studious investment in fine hardware couldn't make up for the fact that with blocked sinuses I felt like I was mixing with a motorcycle helmet on! So, what I need to know is, are there any recommended products or remedies (apart from hiring another mix engineer!) to use in this situation? I have tried sinus sprays but they only work for an hour or so and I'm slightly worried that over-use will affect my hearing in the long term. My doctor doesn't really understand the issues either, which doesn't help. We're only as good as our ears, right? Your help on this issue would be more useful to me right now than any advice on speaker placement, room treatment or the latest and greatest convolution reverb — I can't hear it anyhow!

Simon West

Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: This is not an unusual problem and I completely sympathise. I tend to suffer from this problem quite badly myself.

All I can suggest is to find a good decongestant that works for you. I find Olbas Oil safe and useful — pour a few drops into a bowl of hot water and breathe the vapours for a while. However, the congestion will inevitably come back.

There are lots of pharmaceutical decongestants available, but many are combined with other drugs (paracetemol, for example) which limits how often they can be taken, and some have side-effects that may not agree with you. Try talking to your local chemist for specific product advice — I generally find that approach more helpful than talking to the doctor in situations like this.

But I'm afraid the bottom line is that your ears will not work properly until the cold has passed and the sinuses have cleared. 

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