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Spring Allergies: Tips to Breathe Easier and Sleep Soundly

In Brief:

  • Allergy season brings more than just sniffles and coughs for those affected. It can also cause difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Allergies affect from 20 to 50 percent of Americans and occur when pollen or other allergens, such as pet dander or dust, irritate and inflame the nasal passages, causing symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes.
  • When the nasal and airway passages become congested, airflow is restricted. This restriction of airflow can cause snoring and problems breathing while sleeping, also known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Spring is in the air, bringing warmer days, sunshine and flowers along with it. It sounds nice, but for allergy-sufferers, it can be a nightmare - if you’re lucky enough to fall asleep.

Allergy season brings more than just sniffles and coughs for those affected. It can also cause difficulty falling and staying asleep.

“Because both seasonal and perennial allergies bring nasal congestion, it can often cause problems when trying to sleep,” says Anthony Rooklin, M.D., co-chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

According to WebMD, allergies affect from 20 to 50 percent of Americans and occur when pollen or other allergens, such as pet dander or dust, irritate and inflame the nasal passages, causing symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. 

“There are three basic allergy problems that occur in the spring,” says Thomas Klein, M.D., chief of the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “They are allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and asthma. Allergic rhinitis causes nose congestion and mucus, allergic conjunctivitis causes eye irritation, and asthma causes chest congestion and shortness of breath. Outdoor pollen and indoor dust mites are among the most common allergy-triggers during this time of the year.”

When the nasal and airway passages become congested, airflow is restricted. This restriction of airflow can cause snoring and problems breathing while sleeping, also known as obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a cycle of normal breathing, followed by loud snorts or choking sounds. The cycle repeats itself throughout the night, causing sufferers to feel tired in the morning due to the lack of a full-night’s sleep.

“Because it can be difficult to avoid most springtime allergy triggers outdoors, like pollen, allergy-suffers can take certain precautions to avoid them indoors — especially in the bedroom,” Rooklin says. “If you are allergic to dust mites, you can cover the mattress and pillows with dust mite-impermeable covers. It’s also good to wash linens in hot water, not cold or warm. To reduce pollen entering the home, close the windows and turn on the air conditioner in your bedroom. Also, turn off the ceiling fans, avoid drying clothes on the line outside, and wash your hair before going to bed if you’ve been outdoors for a long period of time.”

There are a variety of medications that can be taken to avoid congestion caused by allergies, like antihistamines combined with a decongestant. Also, intranasal steroids, intranasal antihistamines, and allergy shots can be given.

“If your allergies continue to affect your sleep pattern, and over-the-counter allergy medications and preventative measures are not helping, you should see a doctor,” Klein says. “It’s important to talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist to develop a treatment plan that best suites you. It’s possible for allergy-sufferers to live symptom-free!”

To find a Crozer-Keystone allergist who’s right for you and to schedule an appointment, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258). For a referral to one of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Centers (DCMH, Taylor Hospital or Crozer Health Pavilion), call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703) or visit http://sleepcenters.crozer.org.

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