Aaachoo! How Allergies Affect Sleep Apnea

With spring comes beautiful blooms, but also plenty of pollen. If you’re allergic to flower, grass or tree pollen, you may be suffering right now. And if you have sleep apnea, you’ve likely already experienced a few rough nights.

Allergies can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Anyone who suffers with hay fever will know how much harder it can be to get a good night’s sleep with a congested nose.

However, for those who also suffer with sleep apnea this impact may be further magnified. An allergic reaction can result in increased awakenings during the night, making sleep even harder and worsening symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea -- especially daytime fatigue.

How Allergens Affect Sleep

Different allergens can affect people differently. Some of the main allergens which cause reactions include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites

Besides nasal congestion, allergy sufferers can also experience sneezing bouts, watery eyes and swollen tonsils. For people with obstructive sleep apnea, nasal congestion can be a real issue -- blocking your airways further, compounding the narrowing of the airways resulting from the sleep disorder. Congestion can also result in a dry mouth which may also increase the level of apneas experienced through the night.

In some cases, allergens can cause the tonsils or adenoids to swell. This also narrows the airways, making breathing harder and increasing the chances of increased apneas and interruptions to sleep.

Therefore, for anyone already suffering from OSA, allergic reactions will likely have more impact on their sleep disorder.

Reducing the Risk of Allergens

As allergies can negatively impact OSA, it makes sense to try to negate their affect as you sleep. Nasal steroids to treat congestion is one way which has been shown to improve the quality of sleep for some.

However, there are also changes you can introduce at home to try and help you sleep better at night if prone to allergies. These include:

  • Keep doors and windows closed to help keep out allergens like pollen
  • Keep your pets out of the bedroom
  • Keep on top of your dusting in the bedroom
  • Avoid carpets in the bedroom
  • Shower before bed
  • Use an air purifier
  • Use a dehumidifier, as with windows closed increased humidity can cause mold and the conditions dust mites love

While you may not be able to completely eliminate allergens from your bedroom, by making adjustments to the bedroom environment you could make enough difference to improve the quality of your sleep.

CPAP and Allergy Sufferers

Wearing a CPAP mask when suffering from allergies, particularly nasal congestion, can be problematic.

Masks vary in styles, and people who breathe through their nose when asleep may prefer to wear a nasal mask or a nasal pillow mask as they cover less of the face than a full-face mask, delivering air directly to the nose.

However, for allergy sufferers experiencing nasal congestion, a full-face mask may be the better option since it will cover the mouth, rather than just delivering air to an already congested nose.

An automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) device can also help allergy sufferers. The APAP device will automatically adjust the pressure of the air and deliver different amounts depending on your breathing. Since allergens can affect breathing patterns and cause them to fluctuate, an APAP device will adjust the amount of air delivered by taking in to account such fluctuations.

Talk to your sleep specialist about your allergies, as although treating the allergy may not prevent sleep apnea, it can improve sleep quality and lead to less disrupted sleep.