Allergic rhinitis occurs when allergens in the air are breathed by a patient that is allergic to them, irritating and inflaming the nasal passages. Allergens may include dust mites, pollen, molds, or pet dander. In people who are allergic to them, these particles trigger the release of a chemical in the body that causes nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. These symptoms can lead to poor sleep, which can result in significant daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Allergic rhinitis (allergies) may occur year-round or seasonally. When it occurs seasonally it is usually caused by airborne particles from trees, grass, ragweed, or outdoor mold. Causes of year-round allergic rhinitis include indoor substances such as pet dander, indoor mold, cockroach and dust mites in bedding, mattresses, and carpeting.
Sleep problems are common in people with allergic rhinitis. One study found that sleep is dramatically impaired by allergic symptoms and that the degree of impairment is related to the severity of those symptoms. In addition, sleep problems are linked with fatigue and daytime sleepiness as well as decreased productivity at work or school, impaired learning and memory, depression, and a reduced quality of life.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, is linked with allergic rhinitis. OSA occurs when the muscles of the throat relax and fail to hold the airway open during sleep. People with OSA may suffer from severe daytime sleepiness and a range of chronic health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and sexual dysfunction. Nasal congestion, which causes the upper airway to narrow, increases the risk of both snoring and OSA among allergic rhinitis patients. The good news is that reducing nasal inflammation may reduce symptoms of snoring and OSA as well as daytime fatigue and sleepiness, according to at least one study. This is particularly important for those OSA patients who have trouble with continuous positive airway pressure(CPAP) devices because of nasal congestion.
In addition, research suggests that allergic rhinitis is a risk factor for snoring and OSA among children. Snoring and other sleep problems are linked with poor performance in school, lower IQ, and even brain damage, according to recent research. Parents are urged to pay close attention to sleep symptoms in children with allergic rhinitis and discuss their children’s sleep with their pediatricians.
With such a high rate of sleep disorders and other health problems among allergic rhinitis patients, getting adequate sleep on a regular basis is essential to maintaining physical and mental health as well as performance, safety, and overall well-being.
According to NSF’s 2006 Sleep in America poll, 15% of American adolescents take medications for allergies.
Reviewed by David G. Davila, MD (December 2009).