Autumn is a beautiful time in St. Louis, with vibrant gold, crimson and burnt sienna leaves painting the landscape. Unfortunately, it’s not always the most enjoyable season for allergy sufferers. Allergy symptoms can keep you awake at night with your body’s immune system responding to allergens and disrupting other body systems, including the one that’s set up to regulate your sleep. Here are some strategies to minimize your body’s reaction to allergens so you can sleep better during allergy season.
One of the best strategies is to clean your nasal passages before going to bed. Dust, mold and other allergens can get stuck in your nasal passages and membrane lining causing inflammation. Your nose becomes swollen and clogged and in extreme cases can result in a sinus infection. This is why many allergy sufferers turn to nasal irrigation to gently remove irritants, allergens and inflammatory mucus.
Nasal irrigation can be done at home by filling a bowl with 2 cups of lukewarm water. Mix ½ teaspoon of salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Place the narrow end of a small bulb syringe (available in most drug stores) into the saltwater solution, squeeze out all the air and suck up the saltwater by releasing the bulb. Lean over the sink and insert the tip of the syringe into one of your nostrils no further than the width of your fingertip. Pointing the syringe tip toward the outer corner of your eye, release the bulb to allow the saltwater to squirt into your nose. This will feel funny at first and in some cases you may experience water draining from both nostrils and the back of your mouth as they are all connected. Repeat this procedure twice on each nostril.
It’s also helpful to use nasal saline sprays throughout the day and at night before bed. However, avoid using vasoconstricting nose sprays, like Afrin, on a daily basis as they are addictive if used for more than three days.
Be sure to clear out your medicine cabinet, checking expiration dates on medicine bottles and boxes. Unfortunately, many of the older antihistamines found in medicine cabinets cause dry mouth and those combined with a decongestant prevent you from sleeping. Each fall it’s a good idea to invest in new antihistamines that contain loratadine (found in Claritin and other generics) or fexofenadine (found in Allegra and other generics). See your doctor for prescription Zyrtec or prescription Clarinex which don’t interfere with sleep. It’s best to avoid over the counter (OTC) decongestants as they frequently cause insomnia.
Another strategy for sleeping better during allergy season is to shower with eucalyptus before bed. Take a hot shower, filling your bathroom with steam and sprinkle six drops of essential oil of eucalyptus on your wash cloth. Lather the washcloth with an unscented soap or shower gel and wash your body from head to toe. The combination of essential oil of eucalyptus and steam will have you breathing freely with clearer sinuses and a soothed throat that’s moisturized. Be sure to shampoo your hair every night during allergy season. You can even put a few drops of eucalyptus in your hair before the final rinse. Use a dryer-dried towel and wear dryer-dried clothing to bed. The more care you take in keeping allergens out of your bed, the better you’ll sleep at night.
In “Strategies for Sleeping Better during Allergy Season Part II” we will discuss more ways to fight allergies for a better night’s sleep.