Allergies Keeping You Awake?
Many of us know the misery of allergies all too well -- the sneezing, runny nose and postnasal drip; watery, itchy eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Whether from the symptoms or the medication we use to treat them, our sleep often suffers. And reduced quality and quantity of sleep wreaks havoc on our daily functioning -- our mood, energy, concentration, performance, sexual function, ability to think and make decisions.
Allergies may be seasonal, year-round, or occupational. They may arise from substances in our environment that we touch or inhale or from the foods we eat. Whatever the cause and whenever they occur, their myriad symptoms can disrupt sleep.
Commonly referred to as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal passages that occurs when the body overreacts to an allergen (pollen, dander, house mites, etc.). As the nasal passages swell, they block airflow through them, causing congestion.
Nasal congestion affects sleep in a variety of ways:
It simply can be more difficult to sleep while breathing through your mouth; as your body tries repeatedly to breath nasally, it disturbs your sleep over and over again.
The air that is normally warmed and moistened when passing through the nose is now re-routed through your mouth, drying out and irritating your lips, mouth, and throat.
Pressure or pain can prevent you from falling asleep and staying asleep.
There is an increased tendency to snore, which disturbs your sleep, not to mention your sleeping partner.
Congestion can worsen the symptoms of those suffering from sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder in which one periodically stops breathing while sleeping
What to Do?
- The first thing to do is to avoid the allergens that cause the allergy. Though it may not be readily apparent what is causing your allergy, there are a few things you can easily do on your own that may help reduce common allergens, like dust, dust mites, animal dander, down, etc.
- Get hypoallergenic pillows and bedding. Pillow and mattress covers will also help.
- If you have pets in your bedroom or bed, consider finding someplace else for Fido or Kitty to romp or nap.
- See if your home's heating and air system is adequate, and consider an upgrade with improved air filtration, if needed.
- Vacuum carpets and furniture regularly. Newer vacuums have much improved filtration and improved designs.
- If you use a humidifier, change the water regularly, so it does not breed allergens.
- If food allergies are suspected, try eliminating certain foods or food types and see if symptoms are relieved.
If avoidance or controlling the exposure to allergens does not work, some over-the-counter and prescription treatments include: -Saline nasal flushes. This is a more "natural," drug-free way to relieve congestion. Their effects may be of limited duration.
Nasal decongestant sprays (typically containing the active ingredient oxymetazoline). When used as directed for a limited time, these sprays work quite well and can assist in clearing up your congestion. However, it is very important to get professional medical advice and to follow the insert instructions carefully, use the minimal amount needed to relieve your congestion, and not use too much or too often. Overuse can lead to precisely the same symptoms that you are trying to relieve, like sneezing and congestion.
Nasal decongestant pills or liquids also can provide long-lasting relief. But with any medication, they may have some side effects, namely keeping you awake at night, especially those containing pseudoephedrine. So they are best used during the day. You should get professional medical advice and follow the insert instructions carefully.
Antihistamines. They can dry up your runny nose and postnasal drip. Many over-the-counter antihistamines may cause you to feel a bit "fuzzy." They may also negatively impact the quality of your sleep, keeping you from getting into the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.
If you remain miserably allergic and medications do not work well or cause unacceptable side effects you may want to consider seeing an allergist for a complete evaluation and treatment options. The treatment may benefit you and new options may provide relief and contribute to a more restful sleep.