Allergies and Sleep Apnea: Connected?

Allergies have always been a problem for some people. You know that you are going to have trouble breathing every spring and fall because of all the pollen in the air. It can be even worse when they go to a friend's house where there are cats or dogs. Combined, it can make for a really bad day.

While some people may only have occasional problems with allergies, others fight to try to have a normal day. Add to pollen and pet dander things like pollution, mold, certain foods, dust mites, and even some odors, they have to constantly put up with a runny nose, watery eyes, and nasal congestion. Trying to get a good night's sleep is another story – it's often rare.

The Connection

Besides making life miserable for you while awake, allergies can also cause sleep apnea, according to the Sleep Foundation. This health problem causes breathing to briefly stop completely for a few seconds – possibly up to a couple of minutes. While asleep, the tissue in the throat relaxes and collapses into the airway, cutting off the flow of air and oxygen briefly.

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After sensing the drop in oxygen and the increase in carbon dioxide, the brain wakes the individual and they start breathing again – often with choking or gagging. It happens so quickly, though, the person is not likely to remember waking. This often leaves them completely unaware of having sleep apnea – but their bed partner will certainly be aware of the loud snoring and occasions when breathing completely stops.

The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

Although allergies cause enough problems on their own and often lead to poor quality of sleep, obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type) is a much worse problem. The lack of oxygen means that your body's organs, including the heart and brain, are not getting enough.

Because of the frequent waking that could be as many as 400 times in a single night, you cannot enter into a restful sleep. This is apt to leave you with some of the following symptoms daily – even if you sleep for eight hours:

• Fatigue

• Very tired through the day

• Difficulty concentrating

• Decreased productivity

• Impaired learning

• Loss of memory

• Irritable

• Sexual dysfunction

• Depression.

Sleep apnea, due to the diminished oxygen levels while you sleep and constant tiredness, will cause many health problems if it is not treated. According to CPAP.com, they can include:

• High blood pressure

• Heart attacks

• Stroke

• Diabetes

• High cholesterol.

• Ultimately, sleep apnea can even cause death.

Testing for sleep apnea needs to be done at a sleep lab. The test will reveal the presence of sleep apnea, the severity of it, your oxygen levels, how many times your breathing stops at night, and more.

Allergies Make Sleep Apnea More Likely

When you have allergic rhinitis, you are more prone to develop sleep apnea. Although a connection has not yet been proven, there are three reasons why it could easily develop, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

1. Increased resistance in the nasal passages

2. A reduction in the throat diameter as a result of mouth breathing.

3. Increased histamine levels will make sleep even worse in those with allergic rhinitis.

Getting Tested for Allergies

Knowing what triggers your allergies will help you to be able to avoid them and enjoy a better quality of life. Getting tested could involve several types of tests. Once your allergy triggers are known, you will also be given a more precise treatment that could give you a lot more relief. Kathryn Edwards, allergist expert in the Princeton area, notes that three tests may be involved, including:

• The "Prick" test

• Blood tests

• Patch Test

A pulmonary function test will also be given to determine how much air is being expelled by your lungs. Albuterol is then given to the patient to confirm whether or not an allergy is behind the breathing problem.

Treating Allergies for Better Health

When allergic rhinitis is treated, not only will it enable you to breathe better, but it will also reduce your risk of sleep apnea. A study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that rhinitis may not affect how severe sleep apnea will be, but it will make your ability to get a good night's rest worse.

Allergies certainly can cause you to have less sleep and a poorer quality of life. SleepApnea.org states that besides taking allergy medications that can make you sleepy and tired throughout the day, they can also cause your nose and sinus passages to be dehydrated. With less sleep, it will weaken your immune system – which could make your allergies worse. Not to mention the fact that you are going to stay inside much more – even on beautiful days.

In addition to getting tested for allergies, some other treatments can help with allergy problems and prevent sleep apnea. Currently, allergy shots remain one of the best defenses against allergies.

Another option is to get allergy drops. This treatment is still in the testing stage, but the FDA has approved them for some specific allergies – but not for food allergies. The process is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). It can be a good choice for those who do not like needles. Because there is a slight risk of an allergic reaction, the first drops must be given at the clinic.

Chronic Nasal Congestion

If your nasal congestion is caused by problems with anatomy (non-allergic rhinitis), you will likely have chronic problems. This can easily result in sleep loss and sleep apnea. It will be necessary to have surgery to get the solution you need.

Tests for non-allergic rhinitis will be needed to ensure that the problem is not caused by allergies. The Mayo Clinic says that once allergies are ruled out, other tests will be given that will likely include nasal endoscopy (a fiber-optic scope is inserted into the nose) and a CT scan.

Remedies and management for your allergies to help prevent sleep apnea are possible. Since sleep apnea is apt to shorten your life, why not make that appointment to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist soon? It may make your life much more enjoyable.

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