Allergies and Sleep Apnea: The Connections
Can Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?
If you suffer from chronic allergies and disturbed sleep or sleep apnea, you may wonder what the connection is between the two conditions. Seasonal allergies from pollen or year-round allergies to dust mites or pet dander can make existing sleep apnea worse. Alternatively, sleep apnea may contribute to more severe allergy symptoms.
The Vicious Cycle Between Allergies and Sleep Apnea
Allergies and sleep apnea include some overlapping symptoms like throat irritation, nasal congestion, and inflammation in the sinus cavity. These issues can obstruct breathing and awaken you from sleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnea or snoring caused by airway obstruction can result in fragmented, poor-quality sleep.
- Poor sleep weakens the immune system and causes more inflammation in the body.
- A weakened immune system makes allergy symptoms worse, especially inflammation and mucus production in the throat and nose.
- Excess mucus production further blocks the airway, worsening sleep apnea and snoring. This interrupts sleep even more.
How Sleep Apnea Worsens Allergies
Sleep apnea, characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, has detrimental effects throughout the body. One consequence is that it weakens and compromises the immune system.
When the upper airway becomes obstructed during apnea episodes, oxygen levels in the blood drop. This triggers your body to produce inflammatory chemicals called cytokines in response to stress and lack of oxygen. Cytokines play a key role in immune function.
Over time, the constant ups and downs in oxygen from sleep apnea cause chronic inflammation and high cytokine levels. This creates an overactive immune system that releases excessive histamines and antibodies.
What Are Histamines?
Histamines are chemicals our bodies produce when we come into contact with allergens we’re sensitive to, like pollen or pet dander. They trigger annoying allergy symptoms like:
- Runny, itchy nose
- Watery eyes
- Sinus and nasal congestion and pressure
- Post-nasal drip
In people with sleep apnea, high histamine levels make allergy symptoms more frequent and severe. This also further inflames and narrows the airways, worsening sleep apnea throughout the night.
How Allergies Worsen Sleep Apnea
On the other side of the coin, chronic allergies promote inflammation that contributes to airway obstructive sleep apnea progression. Common allergic responses include:
- Swelling in the nose, throat, and sinuses
- Nasal congestion
- Excess mucus production
- Throat irritation
This nasal congestion and upper airway inflammation narrows breathing passages. The swollen, mucus-lined airway is then more prone to collapsing as you sleep.
Allergy-induced nasal congestion also forces you to breathe through your mouth while sleeping. Mouth breathing promotes throat drying and irritation while decreasing oxygen levels, further disrupting sleep architecture.
Managing Allergies and Sleep Apnea
If you suffer from both unstable sleep and chronic allergy symptoms, there are effective ways to manage both conditions.
- Use prescribed CPAP therapy nightly to improve sleep quality and normalize immune function. Proper sleep apnea treatment reduces inflammation.
- Take medications to control allergy symptoms, like antihistamines, steroid nasal spray, and immunotherapy. Treating allergies reduces airway irritants.
- Minimize exposure to allergens in the bedroom, like dust mites. Encase bedding in protective covers and install an air purifier.
- Rinse nasal passages regularly with saline spray or rinses to clear mucus and soothe inflammation.
- Ask your allergist about allergy shots designed to desensitize your immune system to specific triggers.
- Sleep with a humidifier to add moisture to the air and prevent dryness that worsens throat irritation.
- Use HEPA filters in your HVAC system and vacuum cleaner to circulate cleaner air.
- Consult a dentist about getting fitted for an oral appliance that pulls the jaw forward and opens the airway.
- Lose weight if obesity is contributing to airway narrowing and sleep apnea severity. Even small amounts of weight loss can improve sleep-disordered breathing.
- Avoid alcohol and antihistamines that depress respiratory function before bed.
By consulting specialists and proactively managing your conditions, you can break the cycle of worsening symptoms and achieve restful sleep.
Explore Sleep Apnea Solutions For A Better Night’s Sleep
Allergies and sleep apnea have a complex, interrelated relationship. Allergy issues like throat swelling and excess mucus production worsen obstructive sleep apnea. Conversely, the immune system dysfunction and inflammation from sleep apnea can exacerbate allergy symptoms.
Breaking this vicious cycle requires a multilayered approach to tackle both issues simultaneously. Start by consulting your healthcare providers. An allergist can identify triggers and provide medication, immunotherapy, and environmental recommendations. Meanwhile, a sleep doctor, such as Dr. Rebecca Lauck at North Texas Sleep Solutions in Keller, TX, can diagnose and treat disorders like sleep apnea, allowing you to breathe easier year-round.