Healthy Living

Allergies and Sleep Apnea: The Connection?

It may sound like an unlikely connection. However, researchers have found that allergies and sleep apnea might be related.

Allergies and Sleep Apnea: The Connection?

Every spring and fall, allergies hit with a vengeance. Allergic reactions interfere with normal healthy sleep. You wake up with nasal congestion, dry mouth, and you have blocked breathing airways during the night. Waking up with blocked breathing passages during sleep are apneas. Such breathing stoppages are characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. So, does this mean that allergies and sleep apnea are connected?

Allergies not only stop your breathing at night, but they swell your tonsils and adenoids and cause them to grow larger. These larger than average organs block airways and that leads to sleep apnea.

Allergies are not the specific cause of sleep apnea, but there is a definite connection. A study published in the American Review of Respiratory Disease stated, “in patients with allergic rhinitis, obstructive sleep apneas are longer and more frequent” than in patients without those allergic conditions.”

Another study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says it best, “Decreasing nasal congestion with nasal steroids may improve sleep, daytime fatigue, and the quality of life of patients with AR [allergic rhinitis].” It’s easy to see that you need to take steps to reduce allergic reactions to help you sleep.

Medical researchers, however, don’t say treating your allergies will prevent sleep apnea. Another study published in the European Archives of Oto-rhino-laryngology does state that nasal steroids can improve sleep quality and be useful for patients with mild OSA, but allergy treatments are not adequate treatments for most OSA patients.

If you suffer from sleep apnea without allergies, you need to use a CPAP device or other forms of sleep apnea management. If you have sleep apnea and are suffering from seasonal allergies, you need to discuss prescription options with your doctor. Continue using your CPAP machine.

Sleep Apnea and Sleep

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles at the rear of your throat loosen during sleep. The muscles in this area hold up the wedge-shaped piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate, your tongue, the tonsils, and the side walls of your throat.

As you breath in, the muscles relax and your airway narrows. You don’t get enough air, and this lowers the oxygen levels in your blood. Your brain senses your difficulty breathing and briefly rouses you from sleep. The brain wakes you up and causes you to reopen your airway. You don’t remember waking up, but you probably snort, choke or gasp. This pattern of waking up repeats itself five to 30 times or maybe more each hour and all night. Waking up all night keeps you from reaching the deep, restful sleep required by your body.

Allergies and Sleep

In a survey taken by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, it was found that 59 percent of those with nasal allergies have trouble sleeping or wake up sneezing and sniffling all night. Even though these allergies cut into precious sleep, only about 35 percent of allergy patients seek treatment their symptoms.

Internal medicine researchers found 44 percent of people with seasonal allergies woke up feeling tired and groggy, even if they felt they slept all night. Just like those who suffer from sleep apnea!

Allergies interrupt sleep because they cause nasal passages and throat muscles to swell, says Dr. Mark Holbreich, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in private practice in Indianapolis. Swollen nasal passages cause less room for air to pass freely through nasal passages and make breathing difficult. Also, when you lie down to go to sleep, congestion can make nose breathing even more difficult.

It does help to keep good sleep hygiene to calm down allergies. Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet, avoid caffeine late in the day and power down electrical devices at least an hour before bed. Great advice for those with diagnosed sleep apnea and seasonal allergies.

More good sleep advice, try showering before sleep, keep your windows shut and change pillow cases and sheets. A nice cup of tea or a steamy bath can also help control congestion, so you can breathe more natural as you sleep. Allergy sufferers often get relief from using a nasal saline rinse or a neti pot that may wash out any pollen that is in your nose.

But, if you suffer from allergies and sleep apnea, you need something more powerful to give you relief. If itchiness, sneezing, and a runny nose is your main complaint, over the counter antihistamines might help, but prescription medications or a nasal steroid spray may be more effective at restoring your breathing, even if you use sleep apnea treatments.

Stay away from cold medications say, doctors. “They’re good for three to five days, but if you use them for any length of time, you can get congestion as a sign of overuse. Over-the-counter decongestants give immediate relief, but they’re not suited for a long allergy season.”

Allergies and Sleep Apnea

Have you ever thought that when you use your CPAP machine, your allergies are disrupting the therapy that is most effective for sleep apnea?

CPAP manufacturers know that allergies can affect the device, so they have taken steps to help you solve potential problems caused by allergies and sleep apnea. If allergies make breathing through your nose difficult, you may have a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep if you use a full-face mask. A nasal pillow mask is excellent, but if your nasal mask covers your nose, you can’t receive the air you need.

Advanced CPAP technology now includes APAP devices or automatic positive airway pressure machines. An APAP type of device can help those who have allergies and sleep apnea. How is this done? Allergies cause your breathing to fluctuate throughout the night, and the APAP device is designed to deliver different amounts of air as you need to keep up with allergy fluctuations.

Managing a CPAP to Control Allergies

If allergies are keeping you up, try using a CPAP humidifier. A CPAP humidifier device warms up the air and makes you feel more comfortable. A humidifier (CPAP) can also help if allergies cause you to have dry, mouth, congestion, or cold symptoms with a fever.

On certain CPAP machines (the Air10™ or S9™), there are climate control auto settings that provide protection against “rain-out” or uncomfortable cool humidified air that condenses in your mask producing water drops that drip on your face. There are nights you might want more control over humidification especially if you have allergies or a cold. Setting your own humidity and temperature settings on your machine is easy.

Always check your CPAP machine’s air filters for dust buildup. Replace the filter at least once a month. Changing your filter is especially valuable in March and April or in the fall when more particles in and outside your home find their way into your filter. If you are eligible, ask your  equipment provider if you can receive hypoallergenic filters.

If you use a nasal or a nasal pillow mask and have nasal allergies with congestion and stuffiness, you may need to use a full-face mask. It is easier to breathe through a full-face mask when your allergies flare up. Check with your sleep doctor or equipment provider if a full-face mask will help you get through allergy season.