Every year, around this time, millions of hay fever sufferers experience disrupted sleep as a result of the increased pollen count.
Do hay fever and other allergies affect sleep?
But, what is hay fever? A lot of people might discuss it, but many might not know what exactly it is. The condition is a common one and can affect different areas of people’s lives, including their sleep.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is a common term for a condition known as allergic rhinitis. Simply put, hay fever is an allergy. Very often, it’s an allergy to pollen. Plants release pollen as part of the fertilization process. This release can wreak havoc with allergy sufferers as they inhale the pollen and their immune systems work to fight it.
The pollen from hay fever comes mostly from three sources:
- Trees. Pollen from trees peaks late in the month of March to the middle of May in the United Kingdom.
- Grass. Pollen from grass most irritates hay fever sufferers from the middle of May to July.
- Weeds. Pollen from weeds is particularly prevalent from the end of June through (and including) September.
Other things prompt hay fever, such as mould, yeast, animal dander, and dust mites. These allergens can trigger hay fever that lasts for longer periods than pollen-produced hay fever, which is sometimes known as seasonal hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis.
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What are the symptoms of hay fever?
No matter what you call it or what causes it, hay fever can produce some nasty, uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Running noses
- Blocked noses and sinuses
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Breathing problems
- Post-nasal drip (mucus running down the throat)
- Sleep problems and fatigue
Less common symptoms include:
- Facial pain
- Problems with the sense of smell
- Increased risk of ear infections (in children) and sinus infections (in adults)
Since it can affect the lungs, hay fever can also make asthma worse and more difficult to control.
Such symptoms can interfere with people’s daily lives. Constantly needing facial tissues to wipe noses is inconvenient. Staying in bed because of headaches and tiredness can prevent people from taking care of their families, fulfilling their responsibilities, attending school, or going to work.
How does hay fever interfere with sleep?
But, staying in bed just to get one’s daily sleep can be a problem for a person with hay fever. That’s because hay fever, like other allergies, can dramatically affect a person’s sleep.
Most people lie on their backs when they sleep. This position places their heads at the same level of their bodies, which can be problematic for people with blocked noses. And, instead of breathing through their noses as they usually do during sleep, people with hay fever might breath through their mouths, which can irritate their throats or make their already sore throats even more sore.
Post-nasal drip and the need to wipe noses can also keep people up at night and make them tired during the day. If they nap during the day to try to catch up on sleep, these naps might interfere with their sleep and disrupt their usual sleep patterns.
People suffering from sleep problems sometimes turn to sleep aids, such as sleep medications. But, this solution can create its own risks as people might become dependent on such medications and develop a sleeping pill addiction.
In addition, sleep medications might interfere with other medications a person might be taking to combat their hay fever. Hay fever medications sometimes make people drowsy. If people combine them with sleep aids that are intended to make people drowsy, this double dose of drowsiness can produce a dangerous effect. Also, since alcohol is a depressant, people should also avoid drinking and using hay fever or sleep medications at the same time.
How can hay fever sufferers improve their sleep?
As irritating and disruptive as hay fever-related sleep problems are, there are ways to treat them. As indicated before, many people turn to medications to deal with hay fever. These medications could be over-the-counter (OTC) medications that don’t require doctor prescriptions. They can also be medications that require prescriptions from doctors.
Allergy medications come in the form of pills, nasal sprays, eye drops, and films to place under the tongue. If asthma accompanies hay fever, people might use inhalers to treat the conditions.
Many hay fever medications are intended to calm histamines, chemicals in the body that can cause the immune system to overreact to allergy producers such as pollen. This is why hay fever and allergy medications are often known as antihistamines.
Such antihistamines can stop histamines from triggering the overproduction of mucus. Less mucus could mean an end to post-nasal drip, runny noses, and the need to constantly wipe one’s nose, which could lead to more restful sleep and fewer daytime disruptions.
Since a number of allergy medications make people drowsy, using these medications can provide the double benefit of treating allergies and promoting sleep.
In addition to medication, changing one’s environment can help end hay fever and the insomnia it can create. People who struggle with hay fever and other allergies might want to consider investing in an anti-allergenic mattress. Two good options include:
- Foam memory mattresses. Foam mattresses might be good for allergy sufferers because dust mites could find it harder to penetrate the dense foam of these mattresses.
- Latex mattresses. Latex mattresses have antibacterial properties and are more moisture-resistant than other types of mattresses. Latex is another type of dense material that dust mites might have trouble penetrating, although some people might be allergic to latex itself, so it might not be the hypoallergenic solution for everyone.
Cleaning mattresses, bedding, flooring, and other materials and surfaces in the bedroom can also reduce or eliminate allergens in the area and promote better sleep for allergy sufferers. Speaking of cleaning, bathing or showering before bed and washing one’s clothes frequently are other ways to eliminate pollen.
Gadgets and technology
Avoiding conditions that trigger allergies is another way to avoid hay fever. How can you do this? Make science and technology your friend.
In addition to news about temperatures and precipitation, weather reports on many television and radio broadcasts and Internet sites now include information about allergens, such as pollen counts. You can even download apps for your electronic devices that include allergy and weather forecasts. These forecasts can help people determine if they want to stay indoors during times of high pollen counts.
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you might buy a dust sensor or an air quality monitor. If these devices determine that your air quality is indeed a problem, you might also want to consider buying an air purifier.
There are no guarantees that taking certain steps will cure hay fever and ensure a good night’s sleep, of course. But, trying some of these tips might help people explore what might be causing hay fever (or what ISN’T causing it) and help them decide on ways to treat it. This could possibly help allergy sufferers function better during waking hours and also help them sleep.
About the author
Pam Zuber is a writer and editor interested in health and wellness, substance abuse, and other topics.