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Sinus of the Times: How Seasonal Allergies Can Contribute to Sleep Disordered Breathing

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Allergies are tough.  Environmental allergies affect 30% of US adults and 40% of US 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 make OSA worse, or make it less responsive to treatment.   For many people with environmental allergies, the CPAP can exacerbate irritation, make sinus issues worse, and, if improperly cleaned, even 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 that your allergies aren't contributing to sleep-disordered breathing?

  • Get an accurate diagnosis of your allergens. Many people realize they suffer from allergies, but 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 worst, and take appropriate steps.  Remember, for seasonal allergies you should start treatments a few weeks before the allergen appears.
  • Take steps to reduce dust in your sleeping area.  Most US adults have at least a mild dust allergy.  Dust mites live wherever people live and are not a sign of poor housekeeping. However, you can reduce allergens in your sleeping area by replacing carpet 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 out of the air.
  • Use saline nasal sprays and rinses to reduce irritation and clear your nose before sleep. Clearing out your nose before you go to sleep can help you breathe better during the night.  Dry nasal membranes are swollen and irritated membranes.
  • If your allergies are affecting 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 II 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 treatments, Dr. Dassani teaches you what you need to know to start an OSA program in your office.