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Allergies & Sleep

Sleep can be elusive for allergy sufferers


Springtime signals a time of new beginnings. Flowers are blooming, grass is greening and birds are chirping. But for allergy sufferers the onset of spring – and the rising pollen count – can be a miserable time of year.

In fact, as much as 54 percent of all Americans have tested positive to one or more allergen. While not all allergies are pollen-related – some are animal allergies, food allergies and dust allergies – a significant number of people are affected by airborne allergens present from the last frost in spring to the first frost in fall.

These allergy sufferers often develop a condition known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, characterized by irritated and inflamed nasal passages causing sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. And with those symptoms comes a host of other problems including headaches and sleep problems.

Although nasal congestion contributes to a majority of sleep problems for allergy sufferers, the daily rise and fall of chemicals in the body associated with the body’s allergic response can also pose sleep problems because it disrupts the body’s sleep regulating systems. For instance, the chemicals that the body’s immune system releases often peak in the early morning, contributing to sleep disturbance.

Additionally, a 2006 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that allergy sufferers have more difficulty sleeping than those without allergies. And, they are more than twice as likely to suffer from sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness.

For example:

  • 36 percent of people with allergic rhinitis reported insomnia compared with 16 percent of those without.
  • 42 percent of those with allergic rhinitis vs. 18 percent of those without said they had difficulty falling asleep.
  • 63 percent of allergic rhinitis sufferers said they felt like they weren’t getting enough sleep compared with 25 percent of those without.

 

According to experts, the key to a good night’s sleep is to either keep allergens at bay or find a way to minimize the body’s reaction to them. Following are some ideas:

  • Determine what you are allergic to and find out when and how these allergens appear. This is usually done through allergy testing. After your allergy testing, work with your doctor to develop a plan including everything from reducing contact with allergens to treating them with medication.
  • Talk to your doctor about which antihistamine is best for you. Older antihistamines can cause dry mouth and prevent sleep. But newer medications like Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra don’t interfere with sleep.
  • Develop a cleansing routine. When allergens like pollen, dust, and mold enter your nasal passages, they can get stuck in the membrane lining those passages. This causes inflammation and your nose becomes swollen and clogged. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology rinsing your nasal passages with a nasal irrigation system can prevent allergens from getting trapped. But it is best to discuss this with your doctor before implementing.
  • Use nasal saline sprays throughout the day and right before bed to keep nasal passages moist and
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    clear of pollens. But be sure the sprays are saline only and do not use addicting sprays like Afrin.

  • Avoid decongestants when possible because these can cause insomnia. Instead, focus on preventing congestion from occurring. If you do become congested, speak with your doctor about using a product like Mucinex instead. Also ask your doctor about using a prescription anti-inflammatory nasal spray such as Flonase, Nasonex, Veramyst, and Nasacort. All are effective at preventing inflammation.
  • Keep pollen out of the bedroom by showering right before bed. Then use a dryer-dried towel and put on dryer-dried bedclothes.
  • Shower with eucalyptus to improve breathing and clear sinuses. It also can soothe a sore throat. Just sprinkle a few drops of essential oil of eucalyptus on a wash cloth or bath mitt and lather with unscented soap.
  • Stay indoors when it is hot, dry and windy because pollen is more mobile then. It’s also a good idea to keep the windows closed and the air conditioner running. Schedule shopping and outdoor activities when it cloudy or even rainy because there is less pollen in the air.
  • Check the pollen count by going to www.aaaai.org. Click on “patients and consumers,” then click on “pollen count” and follow the prompts to see what’s pollinating in your area and how heavy the levels are.
  • Keep your windows closed when you go to bed and in the early morning. Pollen is usually heaviest between 5 and 10 a.m.
  • Hire someone to mow your grass and rake your leaves if possible. Mowing grass and raking leaves stirs up lots of pollens and molds.
  • Talk to your family doctor about your allergies and any sleep problems that you may be having. Be sure to discuss your current medications which may be adding to your tiredness. If keeping your allergies at bay does not improve your sleep then you may have a sleep disorder that requires treatment.

 

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