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Treating Allergies at Night

Are allergies keeping you awake?

How do you find out what's causing your allergies?

Enright suggests that you become an allergen "sleuth" to find out which allergens are causing your symptoms. If your allergies only happen at nighttime, perhaps you are allergic to something in your bedroom. 

The most common allergens in bedrooms are microscopic house dust mites which live in bedding.

If the humidity in your bedroom is above 40%, molds may be growing in the carpet, bedding, and upholstered furniture.

If there is a smoker in your home, your nose and sinuses are probably becoming congested due to your inhaling secondhand smoke at night.  A HEPA room air purifier running in your bedroom will remove the smoke.

If you are unsure about the cause of your allergy symptoms, get a skin test or a blood test to identify the allergens that cause your problems. 

What's the link between allergies and sleep apnea?

If you feel sleep deprived, it may be that your nasal allergies cause you to snore at night. In addition to snoring interrupting your sleep, sometimes snoring is a warning sign of the more serious problem of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

With obstructive sleep apnea, you may snore and also have periods of suspension of breathing, called apneas. The apneas are due to an obstruction of the upper airway at the base of the tongue.

If your doctor suspects you're at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, he or she may refer you for a sleep study (polysomnography), which is done at an accredited sleep center.

The sleep test will give your doctor information about oxygen drops associated with obstructive sleep apnea or other breathing problems.

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will talk to you about weight loss and nightly use of CPAP, continuous airway pressure. With CPAP, you wear a custom-fitted nasal mask during sleep that's connected to the continuous airway pressure machine. The continuous airway pressure helps prevent further narrowing or collapse of your airway, so you can get the sleep you need to feel rested.

Sleepy Time Tips to Decrease Allergies and Sleep Deprivation

During the deepest level of sleep, your body is revitalized and tissue damage is repaired. Sleep helps restore the body and strengthens the immune system. Yet difficulty sleeping may accentuate your allergy symptoms, making a congested nose feel even worse.

To get sounder sleep, it takes a combination of steps, including nasal saline irrigation, allergy medicine, and lifestyle measures, says Murray Grossan, MD, a Los Angeles-based ENT and author of The Sinus Cure. Grossan offers these tips:

Watch your diet and avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol for at least six hours before bedtime. 

  • Check your medications, as some allergy medicines can cause insomnia or nervousness. The ingredients and side effects are listed on the medication label.
  • Consider taking an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl) at night. It causes drowsiness in many people.  
  • Get regular exercise for sounder sleep, but don't exercise at night as it may keep you keyed up. Try to exercise outside during the early morning hours to gain the extra benefit of natural sunlight. This helps to set your body's natural circadian rhythm for regular sleep.
  • Keep the windows closed in the bedroom to keep out pollen and nighttime dampness.
  • Raise the head of your bed a few inches. The higher the head, the less the nasal congestion with allergies.

Remember, if you have allergies, your body thermostat is off, says Grossan. "If there's any chilling whatsoever, your body will respond with sneezing, nasal congestion, and hacking." Keep your bedroom comfortably warm and sip warm decaffeinated drinks before bedtime to stay warm."

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Reviewed on February 18, 2009

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