The link between allergies and sleep issues
We’re experiencing a sleep epidemic in the United States. Approximately 30% of Americans experience insomnia while many of us are suffering from routine sleep deprivation.
Sleep is a pillar of our health and well-being, and lack of sleep can impact our quality of life and ability to work.
You may not even realize it, but your allergies can have a significant impact on your sleep. After all, almost half of Americans suffer from seasonal, indoor and outdoor allergies.
If your allergies at night are keeping you up, discover the various ways your allergies and associated symptoms and medications can affect your sleep quality.
A lack of sleep can lead to brain and motor impairment. Without adequate sleep, you may feel emotionally stressed, fatigued or even ill.
Insufficient sleep is also associated with depressed immunity, and over time can lead to increased incidence of infections, as well as increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.
Pretty much any allergy may affect sleep quality. But there are some allergens that may be more likely to trigger allergic reactions (and reduce sleep quality) than others.
Environmental allergens, in particular, may be the culprit of your sleep issues, simply because they’re more likely to originate in the home.
Allergens that are the product of an environment (and aren’t caused by food or plants) are considered environmental allergens.
Common environmental allergens may include animals (including pets and pests), mold and dust. These allergens often live in the home — especially homes with poor air circulation. Since the source of these allergens may be in your bedroom, they may be more likely to cause sleep disturbances.
One 2017 study found that poor sleep is highly associated with house dust mite allergic rhinitis in adults and children.
Dust itself may cause allergy symptoms, including inflammation, itching, sneezing and redness. But if you’re allergic to dust, you may also be allergic to dust mites, microscopic mites that eat dead skin cells.
If dust is visible in your home, there’s a good chance you have dust mites. And even if dust isn’t visible? These little critters also live in mattresses, box springs, pillows and other soft objects.
Many people with pet allergies believe that it’s their pets’ fur they’re allergic to. When in reality, pet dander may be the real culprit of allergy symptoms.
While pets do their fair share of tracking other allergens, such as pollen, mold and dust, around the home, animal dander is also a major allergen.
Dander is dry skin cells that flake off your pet.
It can land on surfaces throughout your home (including hard surfaces but can also become embedded in soft surfaces such as pillows, sofas and window treatments). Many people are also allergic to proteins in their pets’ saliva and excrement, too.
Mold is another common allergen. It may commonly grow in older homes and structures with poor ventilation. Since mold spores thrive in cool, damp climates, they’re often found in the kitchen and bathroom.
Yet any room in your home that isn’t well ventilated or is humid may be a breeding ground for mold.
Just like with pets, pests may also cause allergy flare-ups — especially at night. Pests, such as rodents, cockroaches and mites, may track other allergens around your home.
You may also be allergic to the pests themselves. Many pests drop dander, and patients that suffer from animal allergies may also be allergic to the saliva and excrement of pests, too.
While pollen often originates outside, it has a tricky way of finding its way inside your house.
Pollen is a sticky substance that affixes itself to shoes, clothes and pets. If you sit on your bed or couch while wearing clothes that you’ve worn outside, the pollen can transfer from your clothes to your furniture.
Pets are also seemingly adept at tracking pollen all over the home, too.
Allergies at night may be exacerbated by certain risk factors, including asthma, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, eczema, sleep apnea and certain medications (including both allergy and sleep medications).
Drinking alcohol may also increase these risk factors, though researchers need more clinical trials on the correlation between alcohol, allergies and sleep.
Asthma is a hallmark of allergic diseases.
It is typified by inflammation of our airways and lungs, which occur during allergy season or whenever our body is stressed by an allergic trigger.
Imagine you visit a friend with a cat and you’re suddenly wheezing. This is allergic asthma. For many though, it’s not just one allergic trigger.
Asthma is commonly a chronic condition that can severely impact sleep especially when undertreated.
In fact, one of the classic symptoms of asthma is nocturnal or nighttime cough — you know that cough that keeps you up when you have a bad cold? That is often a nightly experience for asthmatics, especially during an exacerbation.
Other conditions like gastric acid reflux can also complicate asthma, causing a cough that is worse when lying down in bed.
You can quickly see how asthma becomes a key disruptor of sleep. This leads to many people relying on a cocktail of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, but the reality is that those are only temporary solutions.
Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses that commonly stems from allergies or infection, which trigger an inflammatory cascade leading to excessive mucus in our small sinus passages.
This cascade can lead to overgrowth of bacteria and congestion and can involve multiple allergy symptoms including severe nasal and ear congestion, loss of smell and taste, bad taste in the mouth and facial pressure to name a few.
Sinus symptoms can be acute or chronic, and allergies can play a role in both.
Chronic sinusitis can also stem from immunodeficiency or more rare infections due to fungus and mold. The inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages can quickly lead to the inability to breathe out of your nose.
This causes mouth breathing at night and even snoring, which (along with persistent pressure on the sinuses) may impact sleep and those of people around you.
The DREAMS study linked seasonal and year-round allergies to significantly impaired sleep, the more severe cases having the worst impact.
Because allergies at night can affect the entire airway from our nose and mouth to our lungs, breathing is almost always affected by allergies.
The first portals of allergen entry are our eyes, nose, mouth and skin. When pesky allergens arrive, they go to work and start an allergic cascade. Nasal symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose and (one of the worst for sleep) nasal congestion.
Congestion can lead to a blocked nose, forcing mouth breathing at night. Similarly, an itchy, scratchy throat can cause an unrelenting cough and throat clearing at night, too.
Seasonal allergies can affect the eyes and skin quite quickly.
Ever take an evening walk in May only to find yourself itching with hives later that night? Or your eyes swollen and itchy the next day? It's all the physical impact of allergens while we sleep.
The classic itch of allergy is intense with skin eruptions and can only be tamed with a vigorous routine of certain topicals often with allergy medications.
Eczema has been linked to myriad triggers, including house dust mite allergies.
Checking in with an allergy specialist can help tease out your triggers, and medical professionals may offer appropriate treatment options.
Similarly, chronic hives similarly can lead to random hive eruptions — with no clear trigger!
People are often left racking their brains wondering what they ate or did to bring on hives, but in many cases, the hives are simply chronic and have no cause.
Both can lead to debilitating nighttime itchy sleep.
One 2014 study found, “allergic rhinitis increases the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.”
The study found that participants suffering from allergic rhinitis were more likely to suffer from “airway resistance” and were more likely to mouth breathe during sleep.
Since allergic rhinitis may cause inflammation in the nasal passages, patients with this condition were more likely to suffer from lower sleep quality.
The study also noted that previous studies showed improvement in sleep quality when allergic rhinitis sufferers started taking nasal steroids to ease inflammation.
Allergy medications (while so effective) can at times affect sleep.
This is very common with over-the-counter medications — especially when not used correctly. So, what should you look out for?
Oral decongestant pills (when taken at the wrong time) can tend to keep you up at night. Alternatively, some allergy antihistamines might make you drowsy and leave you more tired during the day.
Keep in mind that many over-the-counter medications are now combinations of several medications so it's critical to read ingredients and consult with your healthcare provider. You may not realize that the medication for “allergies” may actually affect your sleep.
As part of your Curex membership, you have unlimited access to a Curex allergy clinician to help you navigate the allergy aisle.
Is your bedroom optimized to help you tackle allergies? If allergies at night are keeping you up, it’s very likely you might not even be aware of sources of allergy in your bedroom.
Are you sleeping with your pet? Even if you don’t suffer from pet allergies, dogs, cats and other pets may be reducing your sleep quality. If they have been outside, they may be tracking allergies into your bedroom and bed.
If you are allergic to seasonal pollen, it’s important to keep long-haired pets out of the bedroom and off the bed as much as possible.
For dust mite allergy, linked to chronic nasal congestion and eczema, a few steps should be taken to help reduce exposure. Dust mites thrive in humidity and the fibers of bedding, upholstery and carpets.
Invest in allergen encasings for your mattress, box spring and pillows to create a barrier and help reduce exposure.
Similarly, avoid wall-to-wall carpet and opt for hard floors or washable rugs.
Try to keep the humidity of your home below 50%.
Get your HVAC system checked annually; change filters so the system performs optimally. You may also want to consider sleeping with your windows closed.
Invest in a room air purifier with a HEPA filter to remove ambient allergens that may make their way into your bedroom. A cool-mist humidifier on your nightstand can also keep your airways moist and less congested for better sleep.
Start with a nighttime routine to remove pollen from your bedroom. Before going to bed, take a shower at night to wash away the pollen and allergens from the day.
Rinse out your nose and eyes with saline. For sinus and nasal congestion sufferers, adding a clarifying essential oil to your humidifier or shower can also decongest.
Cool compresses to swollen eyes, face and hives can soothe the itch that leads to nighttime awakenings.
There is no doubt allergies are a major sleep disruptor.
If you have found yourself struggling to stay awake at work, suffering from morning headaches, feeling sluggish from brain fog, your allergies may be the issue.
Curex can start you on the road to learning more about which allergens could be affecting you. Whether it’s your pet, dust mites, seasonal allergens, mold— or all of the above.
Once you have a clear idea of your allergy triggers, you will also have a much better understanding of how allergies may be impacting your sleep and how best to effectively treat them.
To find long-term relief, seek help from an allergy specialist, like those at Curex.