If you are a seasonal allergist, the thought of spring with it’s blooming flowers and sprouting trees might be less enticing for you. Instead of planning new outdoor activities in the fresh air, you stay indoors checking pollen levels and hope for some gentle, sustained rain while using up another box of Kleenex to control your runny nose.
When pollen is flying hay fever symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, constant coughing, or a sore throat make it difficult for your to breath well, and with that, the chances of getting a good night’s sleep diminish significantly.
It may even be worse when you are suffering from a year-round allergy caused by allergens in your home. You are just too familiar with the struggle to get enough shuteye at night. You toss and turn around in bed, coughing and sneezing; in the morning you wake up feeling exhausted and irritable because your allergies have robbed you of another night’s good sleep.
Generally, the more severe the allergy symptoms are the less sleep you get which in turns leads to increased daytime sleepiness, decreased productivity at work or school, moodiness and reduced overall quality of life.
So what can you do to reduce the severity of symptoms to get a good night’s sleep and wake up rested? Read on if you are curious to learn some quick ways to fall and stay asleep despite your allergies.
What causes an allergy?
Air is what we need to breathe and live. However, if it is filled with all kinds of allergens and you are suffering from an allergy, also known as allergic rhinitis, the air you are breathing in may become a growing burden for you and severely impact your quality of life.
In case your allergy is seasonal, the most common triggers are airborne particles from grasses, plants, and trees during spring; causes for year-round allergies may include dust mites, cockroach allergens, molds, or pet dander in your home.
How does the allergic response exactly work?
When a person that is allergic to these allergens breathes them in, it causes irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages and triggers the release of histamines in the body. Histamines are chemicals that cause swelling of the mucous membranes, nasal congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing – all the symptoms which narrow your nasal passages and leave you struggling to breathe properly.
In addition, postnasal drip starts to collect in the back of your throat, causing you to cough, and cough – often the most annoying symptom of your allergy. The more you cough and try to breathe through your congested nose, the more miserable you feel.
Why are the symptoms of the allergy wors at night?
You might be able to handle those symptoms during the day but when it comes to bedtime things are getting tough. Being exposed to allergens in the bedroom can trigger some of the most severe allergy symptoms of the day.
In fact, a lot of allergists say that the symptoms only flare up at night or in the morning while during the rest of the day they are doing fine, with a few seenzes and coughs here and there.
The main reason why seasonal allergy symptoms are getting worse at night is that you often breathe in more pollens. During the day when its warmer, pollens are pushed up higher into the air; at night when the air cools down, they fall down too and your exposure to the pollens increases. That is the reason why pollen counts are often at their highest in the early mornings letting your wake up congested, dizzy, or with a sore throat.
If your allergy is year-round, you might experience other challenges. As soon as you crawl into your bed prepared to get a good night’s sleep, you realize increasing difficulties to breathe through your nose. The most likely reason for this is dust mites in bedding, mattresses, and carpeting in your bedroom.
Is an allergy always the cause for the symptoms?
There are a few other causes which can trigger symptoms such as an irritated nose, sneezing, and congested airways. One is second-hand smoking which is a common trigger for nasal congestion and runny nose. Other common irritants include exposure to fireplace smoke, fragrances, and cleaning agents. These are not allergic triggers, but merely irritant triggers. To find out if the symptoms you have are caused by an allergy or not, you should evaluate your situation with an allergist and undergo a specific allergy testing.
How to improve your sleep when pollen is flying?
Depending on whether your allergy is seasonal or year-round there are basically two main ways to improve your sleep:
- Eliminating or reducing exposure to pollen by keeping outside air out (seasonal allergy)
- Get rid of whatever it is you’re allergic to (year-round allergy)
First, let’s have a look at what you can do to improve your sleep when suffering from seasonal allergy.
Limit exposure to pollens: Rule number one is to limit your exposure to outside air as much as you can by keeping your bedroom closed up, also during daytime. If the bedroom windows are open, you allow pollen, mold spores, and other allergens to breeze into the room which creates a perfect setup for an allergy attack and a bad night’s sleep. Therefore, close the windows and use air conditioning instead, if available.
Shower at night: Pollens are microscopic and tend to be everywhere: in your hair, on your skin, in your nose and eyes, and on your cloth and lines. Therefore, take a shower before you go to bed to wash away the pollens you have collected during the day. Wash your hair and rinse your nose and eyes with saline; also wash your linen at least once a week, maybe even more often.
Reduce stress as much as you can and also make sure to declare your bedroom a computer- and cell phone-free zone. Not only that stress keeps you awake at night, but it also triggers flare-ups of seasonal allergies. Exercise and meditate regularly, practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, and focus on activities you enjoy doing.
Switch medication intake: In case you are taking antihistamine medication, and your allergy symptoms are peaking at night or in the morning, talk to your allergist and discuss if switching to night intake might be an option for you. This way, the medication circulates in your bloodstream when your body most needs it. However, some medicine can keep you awake, so you need to make sure that the nightly intake won’t cause adverse effects resulting in you having trouble falling or staying asleep.
Clean your sinuses: What is preventing you from breathing well at night are the allergy-causing particles in your sinus passages as well as the excess mucus. Therefore, wash out your sinuses using a Neti Pot or any other sinus rinse solution. This helps to keep the allergy-causing particles out of your sinus passages, and also removes excess mucus.
Keep clothes out of our bedroom: Make sure to change your clothes not in the bedroom, especially if you went outdoors during high pollen counts. If you take the clothes to your bedroom, you also bring in the pollen. Instead, leave these clothes in the laundry room as soon as you come indoors. Also, avoid hanging clothes and linen outside to dry, dry them inside or even better, use a laundry dryer.
It is tough getting some decent sleep during a seasonal allergy. However, the spring allergy season generally lasts only a few weeks to a couple of months. The goal is to make it through that time without becoming severely sleep deprived.
How to sleep better if you have a year-round allergy?
The number one cause of year-round allergy is dust mites. Dust mites are tiny spider-like bugs which can be found basically everywhere indoors, even in the cleanest homes – dust mites feed off dead skin cells which every person sheds. While dust mites are not dangerous in a sense that they bite you, they do trigger allergies.
One of the favorite spots for dust mites is your bed, especially the mattress and the pillows which is why they are often the cause of severe nighttime allergies. Here are some actions you can take to limit your exposure to dust mites:
- First, put a dust-mite-proof cover over all pillows and your mattress to create a barrier between you and the dust mites.
- Second, wash your bedding weekly in hot water, maybe even more often. Keep in mind that the water temperature needs to be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the dust mites get really killed and other allergens adequately removed.
- Finally, regularly vacuum carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture, and wipe the floor with a damp cloth where it is necessary. Make sure to clean early in the day; exposing yourself to dust mite while cleaning and kicking up mite-infested dust just before bedtime can make allergy symptoms worse.
If despite all of these actions you still experience severe allergic symptoms at night, you may want to consider to replace old pillows and duvets as well as your mattress. And as the bedding is not the only place where you can find dust mites, you may also want to think of removing upholstered furniture, fabric curtains as well as carpets and rugs.
Keep also in mind that allergens like pollen, pet dander, and mold remain as residues in the filters of your air conditioner, vacuum cleaner, and certain heating units. If the filters are not cleaned or replaced regularly, the offending particles get blown into the air when the device is in use.
Mold is another common allergen. There are several causes for having mold in your house. The easiest one to handle is dampness from your bathroom. Especially if your bedroom has an attached bathroom, make sure to keep the door of the bathroom closed when taking a shower or a bath. Minimize or le the dampness out by using the exhaust fan or opening a window. Take action
Love to snuggle up to your furry friend at night? Unfortunately, as an allergist, this might be precisely the reason why you can’t get any sleep. While you are not allergic to your pet per se, it is the pet dander which triggers the usual allergic responses. Pet dander is basically the dust mite of your pet meaning these are flakes of the dead skin shed by your cat or dog. In addition to animals dander allergens, your cat or dog may also carry a lot of pollen and mold spores in his hair.
Even if you’re not allergic to pet dander but to any of the other allergens, it is a good idea to keep your pet out of the bedroom (and off your bed!), especially if it has spent time outdoors. Dust clean, sweep and vacuum regularly; brush your furry friend daily and pamper it with a weekly bath to reduce dander in your home. And teach him that your bedroom is a pet-free zone all night and all day.
Adjusting your sleeping position might also help to alleviate allergy symptoms. Try to sleep on your back and use an extra pillow to raise your head. Airways congestion is always worse when you are lying down as there is no gravity. The mucus sits there, blocks the airways and obstructs your breathing. Propping your head up on a pillow can help to prevent mucus collection so that you can breathe better.
Fragrances might be another risk factor for you. In these days you can find fragrances and scents in almost every household item: laundry detergents, cleaners, cosmetics, perfume, plug-in air fresheners, candles, and many more. Many of these products contain thousands of chemicals which can trigger allergic symptoms such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and itchy eyes. If you’re sensitive to those chemicals, look for products that are labeled fragrance-free, and remove any air fresheners, candles, or other heavily scented items from your bedroom.
Air purifier or humidifier – which one to choose for allergies?
You may have often been adviced to use either an air purifier or a humidifier for allergy relief. As both devices have different functions, the right choice depends on the type of allergy you have.
So what’s the difference? Air purifiers clean indoor air by removing dust and smoke from the air, as well as animal dander and pollen allergens; but they do not influence the humidity levels. Humidifiers add water to indoor air, increasing the humidity in the air; however, they do not clean it. As they prevent dryness, they are used to relieve health issues from dry air.
If one of your allergic symptoms is coughing due to dryness of your mucous membranes, you may want to use a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom. Such as device helps keeping nasal and airway passages moisturized and prevent congestion that causes cough and breathing problems.
That being said, if it is mold you are allergic to a humidifier might become the root cause of your problems. The standing water in humidifiers is often home to bacteria and mold. When the humidifier is turned on, mold allergens are released into the air, and breathing them in can cause exactly those symptoms you are trying to avoid. Same with dust mites: they can survive all year in a warm and humid environment, which is why you should keep the humidity in your home at less than 50 percent. If you live in a humid or wet climate, it might be rather a dehumidifier what you need.
Air purifiers help to clear away pollen and dust mite allergen residue. The most effective air purifiers for allergies are said to be those with HEPA filters which remove a wide range of allergens and particles and can last for several years.
However, using an air purifier is not low maintenance. It will not prevent you from regular cleaning and vacuuming your home as allergen particles can still fall on to the floor and stick to carpets and furniture. The filters of air purifiers require strict cleaning and changing cycles. Also, keep in mind that with an air purifier you cannot control indoor humidity, hence the growth of mold and dust mites.
Both, air purifiers and humidifiers have pros and cons of their own. Therefore, it is important to consider in what environment you want to use it and what your individual needs are.
Can an allergy cause obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The result is a reduction in blood oxygen saturation which may lead to severe daytime sleepiness and fatigue as well as chronic health problems such as heart diseases, or strokes.
OSA can be linked with allergic rhinitis since nasal congestion, one of the most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis, causes the upper airway to narrow. This condition increases the risk of both snoring and OSA among people suffering from allergic rhinitis, including children. That is the reason why children with allergic rhinitis sometimes develop sleep problems like snoring and OSA resulting in extreme daytime sleepiness and leading to poor concentration, stress and even depression.
In most cases, the symptoms of snoring and OSA, as well as associated daytime sleepiness and fatigue, are reduced as soon as the nasal inflammation recedes. However, in case the allergic rhinitis is chronic you should pay close attention to your or your child’s sleep symptoms and discuss it with a sleep health professional not to risk any long-term health issues.