The thought of allergies brings back memories of nasal congestion, sneezing or rashes. Certain substances present in the environment trigger various symptoms in people, causing a hindrance in their day-to-day lives. However, common allergies undiagnosed for long periods can also cause sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, impacting people’s overall well-being.
What causes allergies?
Allergies are caused by allergens (substances that can cause an allergic reaction), which can spread through air, water, food or even touch. Our bodies recognise these allergens as foreign substances and initiate an immune response.
“Allergies are a unique phenomenon. Whenever we inhale or ingest an allergen, our immune system reacts to it in a mild or severe manner, causing several symptoms. Allergies can either be as simple as allergic rhinitis or life-threatening if not addressed at the earliest,” says Dr M.N. Shankar, ENT and head and neck surgeon, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai.
ACs can make allergies worse
People working in an office setting are susceptible to developing allergies. One of the main reasons for this is the AC, which creates a contrast in temperatures inside and outside the office. “People working in an office [especially in the IT sector] usually do so in an air-conditioned environment, at a temperature of around 18–19 °C. The contrasting temperature outside the office can make them more susceptible to fungal infections and aggravate their allergies, which in turn can cause sleep disruptions,” says Dr Shankar. He suggests keeping the AC temperature five to six degrees lower than outside and avoiding working directly facing the AC.
How do allergies disturb sleep?
Allergy symptoms can disrupt sleep in several ways, says Dr Pavan Yadav, lead consultant, interventional pulmonology & lung transplantation, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru. “When you are exposed to allergens, your immune system releases histamines, which can cause nasal congestion, sneezing and watery eyes, among others,” he explains.
Nasal congestion can make it difficult to breathe through the nose, resulting in snoring and sleep-disordered breathing. In addition, postnasal drip caused by allergies can irritate the throat and trigger coughing, making it challenging to sleep peacefully.
Allergy-induced sleep disruptions impact every day life
“Children require eight hours of good-quality sleep, as improper sleep can affect their learning process and immunity, making them susceptible to colds, infections and delayed recovery,” says Dr Shankar.
“While having a good night’s sleep can speed up recovery, a lack of it can affect the detoxification process, increase metabolic stress and prevent the body from recuperating properly,” he adds.
Insufficient sleep can also cause reduced concentration, daytime drowsiness and irritation. In addition, it can affect people’s behaviour and make them less productive at work.
Insufficient sleep can cause road accidents
Besides affecting productivity, daytime drowsiness can also increase the risk of accidents. “Feeling sleepy during the day affects people’s concentration and cognitive functions. Their reflexes become muffled, often resulting in road accidents,” says Dr Shankar.
In addition, industry workers working with heavy equipment can get seriously injured due to delayed reflexes resulting from improper sleep.
Allergies can worsen sleep disorders
Allergies can exacerbate sleep disorders like sleep apnea, a condition characterised by frequent pauses in breathing during sleep. “When you have allergies, nasal congestion and inflammation can narrow the airways, making it more difficult to breathe during sleep. This can further contribute to sleep apnea, resulting in fragmented sleep and daytime fatigue,” says Dr Yadav.
Managing allergies for better sleep
Experts suggest several lifestyle measures for managing allergies, which in turn can lead to better sleep:
- Allergen-proofing the bedroom: Using dust mite-proof pillow and mattress covers, washing the bedding regularly in hot water and removing potential allergens (like pet dander) from the bedroom can contribute to a good night’s sleep.
- Maintaining a clean sleeping environment: One should vacuum the carpets and dusty surfaces on a regular basis and minimise clutter in the bedroom to prevent the accumulation of allergens.
- Showering before bedtime: Taking a shower before going to bed can help remove any allergens that may be on your skin or hair, preventing symptoms during sleep.
- Steam inhalation: Steam inhalation can help unclog the nose and reduce inflammation in the airway, helping one sleep better.
- Using air purifiers and humidifiers: Air purifiers can help remove allergens from the air, while humidifiers can keep the air moist, reducing nasal congestion.
- Avoiding allergen exposure: Staying updated on pollen counts and limiting outdoor activities are vital during peak allergy season. One should also keep the windows closed to prevent allergens from entering the home.
- Consulting a doctor: If allergies significantly impact sleep quality, it is best to seek professional help. An allergy specialist can provide personalised treatment options like allergy medications, immunotherapy or other appropriate management strategies.
- Allergies undiagnosed for long periods can disrupt sleep, making one susceptible to sleep disorders.
- Insufficient sleep due to allergies can affect one’s everyday life, causing complications like reduced concentration, daytime drowsiness and decreased productivity. In addition, allergies can also exacerbate pre-existing sleep disorders.
- Lifestyle measures like allergen-proofing the bedroom, showering before bedtime and steam inhalation can help manage allergies, helping one sleep better.