Allergies and in particular allergic rhinitis are increasing in prevalence and currently affect between 10-25% of the population. The most common symptoms include: nasal congestion, rhinorrhoea, itching, postnasal drip and sneezing. However, daytime sleepiness, disrupted sleep at night, fatigue, headache, decreased cognitive performance and malaise can also be the consequence of allergic rhinitis but these symptoms are not always recognised as being associated with allergy.
Impaired sleep not only causes daytime somnolence and fatigue but can decrease our productivity, increase our risk of accidents, alter our mood and affect our quality of life. Until now, it has not been easy to prove a direct cause and effect relationship between rhinitis and impaired sleep. However, a recent study by Fisher et al (2005) compairing allergic rhinitis patients with controls, found statistical evidence suggesting that daytime sleepiness and quality of life correlated with the severity of rhinosinusitis. The research also found that for those individuals who suffered allergic rhinitis when sleeping in the supine position (on the back), the congestion in their nasal airway increased. This was particularly evident during the early hours of the morning, which affected their circadian rhythms and consequently their sleep quality.
Congestion in the nasal airway can lead to sleep disordered breathing and snoring. From a questionnaire based study of 5000 subjects who frequently suffered rhinitis symptoms, it was found that they were significantly more likely to be snorers, have non-restorative sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. The study also found that subjects with nasal congestion were almost twice as likely to have moderate to severe sleep disordered breathing than normal subjects. Statistical findings similar to the previous study found that both nasal congestion and rhinitis were significant factors in sleep disruption, especially when sleeping on the back, with all symptoms being worse in the early morning hours.
Respiratory allergy is the result of nasal hypersensitivity or hyperactivity. The lining of the nose and throat swells which prevents correct breathing through the nasal airway and is often worse at night. Symptoms are typically the same as those of allergic rhinitis and can have similar devastating effects on quality of life.
Known causes of allergic rhinitis and respiratory allergy include: dust particles, tobacco smoke (including passive smoking), feather pillows & bedding, dung of house dust mite, pet hair, indoor plants & flowers, perfumes, some household cleaners and paint smells.
There are many treatments for allergic symptoms and the best treatment of all is to prevent or avoid the offending allergy. For example, barrier bedding is readily available in high street shops and will prevent house dust mites from entering your pillows and bedding. Tobacco smoke is a common allergen and can affect not only the smoker but all those who inhale it. It has long been established that children of smoking parents are twice as likely to snore as those from non-smoking families.
The anti-inflammatory and astringent properties of herbal sprays such as Rhynil will help reduce the symptoms of nasal congestion and can be used on a long-term basis. But what if you don't know what is causing your allergy? It may be worth trying a simple home test allergy kit to determine the cause.