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Sinus of the times – How seasonal allergies can contribute to sleep-disordered breathing

Posted on February 25th, 2020

Allergies are tough. Environmental allergies affect 30% of US adults and 40% of U.S. children. When people are exposed to allergens in the air, they break out in rashes. Their eyes itch and water. And their sinuses and lungs can become inflamed.

In children, especially, this inflammation can obstruct the nasal passages during sleep and lead to obstructive sleep apnea. For adults and children, untreated asthma and allergies can worsen OSA or make it less responsive to treatment. For many people with environmental allergies, the CPAP can exacerbate irritation or make sinus issues worse. Also, if the CPAP is improperly cleaned, it can increase the risk of sinus infections.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has recognized that allergies and asthma play an important role in OSA. But what can you do to ensure your allergies don’t contribute to sleep-disordered breathing?

Get an accurate diagnosis of your allergens. Many people realize they suffer from allergies. But they may not know what they’re allergic to. See an allergist and get tested. For instance, many adults who think that grass or ragweed is their biggest trigger may not be aware of a dust allergy.

Learn when your seasonal allergens are worse and take appropriate steps. Remember, for seasonal allergies, you should start treatment a few weeks before the allergen appears.

Take steps to reduce dust in your sleeping area. Most adults in the U.S. have at least a mild dust allergy. Dust mites live wherever people live. And they are not a sign of poor housekeeping. However, you can reduce allergens in your sleeping area by replacing carpets with wood or laminate. Wash sheets and blankets on hot once a week and use dust covers on your mattresses and pillows. Finally, consider running a HEPA filter at night to clear irritants from the air.

Use saline nasal sprays and rinses to reduce irritation and clear your nose before sleep. Clearing your nose before you sleep can help you breathe better at night.  Dry nasal membranes are swollen and irritated membranes.

If your allergies affect your sleep, get screened for OSA. Your dentist, primary care provider, or allergist can screen you for OSA. If you’re at risk, get a sleep study. Untreated OSA can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.

If you’re a dental practitioner or dental office team member who wants to learn more about the link between allergies and OSA and how your office can screen for it and provide treatment, Dr. Dassani teaches you what you need to know about how to start an OSA program in your office.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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