Allergic rhinitis (AR) is caused by allergens in the air that irritate and inflame your nasal passages. Allergens include dust mites (in bedding, mattresses or carpets), pollen, molds and pet dander, which cause the release of a chemical in the body that results in nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose, which in turn can cause poor sleep and resulting daytime sleepiness. Other types of allergens are seasonal and are transmitted by airborne particles from trees, grass, ragwood and outdoor mold.
A study in France found that “all dimensions of sleep were impaired” by allergic rhinitis, “particularly by the severe type.” The study urged that general practitioners treat allergies more seriously.
Those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), already at risk for serious health problems, are hugely impacted by the onset of allergies and nasal congestion. Since sleep apnea sufferers already have difficulty breathing at night, irritations in the nasal passages only worsen the symptoms. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that allergic rhinitis “is a risk factor for OSAS [obstructive sleep apnea syndrome] because AR is associated with nasal obstruction, enlargement of tonsils and adenoids, and an elongated face, which, taken together, constitute a smaller upper airway size.” The NIH also urged family doctors and attending physicians to treat allergies more aggressively to help prevent OSAS.
Allergies are also a risk factor for snoring because of the same problems mentioned above.
Allergies that lead to or complicate sleep apnea in children are particularly troublesome because OSA in children has been linked with poor performance at school, a lowered IQ and even brain damage, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). The NIH, in studying childhood OSA, noted that untreated childhood OSA could permanently alter a developing child’s cognitive potential.”
A survey by the NSF in 2006 showed that 15 percent of American adolescents take medications for allergies.
The foundation offers these tips for combatting allergies:
- Stay indoors on days with high pollen or ragweed counts
- Keep windows closed and air-conditioning on to prevent pollens and pollutants from entering and lower humidity
- Use a dehumidifier to help prevent to accumulation of mold spores
- Wash pets regularly and do not sleep in the same room with them
- Use vacuums and air cleaners rated for their ability to remove allergens from the air
- Vacuum often
- Change air filters monthly
Regardless of your age, sleep is essential, so if you suffer from allergies and can’t control them with over-the-counter medications and/or by thoroughly cleansing your home environment of any causative agents, you should see your family doctor for help. And if you also have sleep apnea, you need to get a professional evaluation and treat that as well.
Remember, poor sleep affects us all in the daytime with fatigue, problems in focusing and using cognitive acbilities, and reduced performance at work or school. Don’t take sleep for granted, and certainly don’t let allergies worsen any sleep issues you face.