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Baylor College of Medicine News

Tips can help allergy sufferers get good night's sleep

An allergy expert at Baylor College of Medicine offers important advice for those suffering from those dreadful Spring allergies get a good night's sleep.

"The most important thing to figure out is why allergies are causing sleep to be interrupted. There could be a number of reasons, and it is best to determine it by working with a physician," said Dr. David Corry, chief of the section of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at BCM.

Evaluate symptoms

Common symptoms of allergies can cause sleep disruption. For example, a drippy nose – this can fall into the back of your throat at night and produce irritation in the throat as well as cough, causing you to wake up repeatedly in the night. Inflammation that's associated with allergies can affect the membranes of the nose and cause swelling to the point where breathing through the nose is not possible. This forces mouth-breathing, which can be irritating and cause dry mouth.

Corry points out that those who sometimes complain of allergies disrupting their sleep may not actually have allergies at all, but instead may be suffering from gastric reflux.

"When you look at their symptoms, it's actually that they have acid coming up through their esophagus and then spilling all the way into the back of the mouth and into the nose, and that acid can be very irritating and produce that drippy nose. This irritation at night can be carrying forward during the day and people might think they have allergies, but it's actually gastric reflux," he said.

Things that may clue you into the fact that the symptoms are reflux include:

  • The absence of classic symptoms of allergies including itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and cough.
  • No reaction to typical allergens during allergy testing.
  • The timing of the onset of symptoms – the symptoms are not seasonal, but rather year-round.
  • The timing of symptoms during the day – those with allergies have symptoms during the day and when they go outside.

For those who think they have reflux rather than allergies, Corry recommends consulting a gastroenterologist.

Treatment plan

For those who have the classic symptoms of allergies, Corry says to consider the following remedies:

  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Allergen immunotherapy – this involves gradually introducing the allergen to the body and over time reversing the immune response to that allergen

Corry also recommends using a HEPA filter in the bedroom during the day to remove allergens in the air. He says to leave the filter on in the bedroom with the door closed throughout the day and then turn it off at bedtime. This allows you to breathe clean air at night when sleeping.

Be sure to look for sources of water intrusion in the home that might cause mold, and also check to see if air conditioner vents are clean. If you suffer from severe allergies, consider removing carpets from the home and replacing them with a hard surface floor.

Corry points out that those who have sleep apnea independent of their allergies may have even more difficulty sleeping, and they should work closely with their physician to develop a treatment plan that allows for allergy relief and a good night's sleep.