Not only does the sheer misery induced by allergy symptoms keep you awake at night, but your body’s immunological response to those allergens disrupts the systems set up to regulate your sleep. So the key to a good night’s sleep is to keep allergens at bay—or, when that’s simply impossible, find a way to minimize your body’s reaction to them. Here’s how to do it.
1. MAKE A BATTLE PLAN. Get an ID on the allergens that are driving you crazy, find out when and how they appear, then formulate a battle plan with your doctor. Include everything from reducing contact with the allergen to treating it with medication.
If your allergies aren’t immediately obvious to you and your doctor, ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist in your community. Or go to www.aaaai.org, click on “patients and consumers,” then click on “find an allergist.” Your allergist will run a series of skin or blood tests to reveal specific allergens.
2. WASH. When allergens, dust, and mold enter your nasal passages, they tend to get stuck in the membrane lining those passages. Inflammation sets in, your nose becomes swollen and clogged, and a nasty sinus infection can be the result.
Fortunately, however, “nasal irrigation, if it is done correctly and gently, can remove allergens, irritants, and inflammatory mucus,” says William H. Anderson, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Doing this is helpful for everyone, he adds, but for those with a tendency toward sinus infections, it’s particularly recommended.
To wash out your nasal passages, stand by the bathroom sink first thing in the morning, wash your hands with soap and water, then fill a bowl with 2 cups of water that feels as though it’s around body temperature. Mix in 12 teaspoon salt and stir to dissolve. (If you are sensitive to iodine, use non-iodized salt.) Then pick up a small bulb syringe (available from your local drugstore) and squeeze out all the air. Put the narrow end into the saltwater solution and release the bulb to suck up the saltwater into the bulb. Squirt the water into the sink.
Now bend over the sink, squeeze the air out of the bulb once again, put the narrow end into the saltwater, release the bulb, and suck up the saltwater. Insert the tip of the syringe into one nostril—no farther than the width of your fingertip—and tilt the syringe tip toward the outer corner of your eye. Gently release the bulb and allow the water to gently squirt into your nose as you continue to lean over the sink.
Let the water drain out of your nostril back into the sink. Don’t be alarmed if it comes out of your other nostril or your mouth. Both nostrils and the back of your mouth are all connected.
Repeat the procedure, switch nostrils, and then wash the second nostril twice. Wash out the bulb with fresh clean water several times, then store it, tip down, in a cup.
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3. SQUIRT. “Nasal saline sprays can be very helpful,” says Dr. Anderson. Use them throughout the day and particularly at night before bed. Avoid daily use of nasal vasoconstricting nose sprays, such as Afrin. If you use them for more than three days, you will become addicted. The nasal passages will swell and obstruct airway passages until the effect wears off—another three days.
4. FORGET OTC DECONGESTANTS. Over-the-counter decongestants can cause insomnia, says Dr. Anderson. If sleep is your objective, forget about taking ’em.PRETREAT.
5. PRETREAT. Since your immune system responds to the allergen with inflammation and that’s what swells shut your nasal passages, prevent the inflammation by using a prescription anti-inflammatory nasal spray, says Dr. Anderson. Brands inlclude Flonase, Nasonex, Veramyst, and Nasacort. All are effective.
6. LOOK FOR THE NEWER ANTIHISTAMINES. Older antihistamines can cause dry mouth or, when sold combined with decongestants, prevent sleep. “Newer antihistamines—including loratadine (generic Claritin), fexofenadine (generic Allegra), prescription Zyrtec, and prescription Clarinex don’t interfere with sleep like some of the older ones do,” says Dr. Anderson. Check with your doctor to see if one of them is right for you.
7. SHOWER WITH EUCALYPTUS. Head into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and fill the room with steam. Then sprinkle a half-dozen drops of essential oil of eucalyptus on your wet bath mitt, lather the mitt with an unscented soap, and wash your entire body from top to bottom. By the time you hit your feet, your nose will be breathing freely, your sinuses will be clear, and your throat will feel soothed and moisturized.
For an extra treat after you shampoo, use a few drops of eucalyptus in the final rinse for your hair. Keep it out of your eyes.
8. RINSE OFF. To keep pollen out of the bedroom, shower right before bed, use a dryer-dried towel, and don dryer-dried bedclothes.
9. HIDE OUT. Hot, dry, and windy weather can each send dust, pollen, and molds skittering through your windows at home, work, in your car—virtually everywhere. So stay indoors with windows closed when those conditions are present during your allergy season. Schedule shopping and outdoor activities when it’s windless, cloudy, or even rainy. There’s less pollen in the air.
10. CHECK THE POLLEN COUNT. If you have a pollen allergy, go to www.aaaai.org, click on “patients and consumers,” then click on “pollen count” and follow the prompts to see what’s pollinating in your area and how heavy the levels are. Plan outdoor activities when the counts are low; schedule indoor activities when the counts are high.
11. CLOSE WINDOWS IN THE EARLY MORNING. Pollen is usually emitted between 5:00 and 10:00 A.M. To avoid giving yourself a big dose before you even open your peepers, close windows the night before.
12. EXERCISE AFTER 10:00 A.M.. You’ll breathe better and get a better workout if you exercise after that 5:00 to 10:00 A.M. blast of pollen.
13. SCHEDULE VACATIONS DURING YOUR ALLERGY SEASON. Why not skip your allergy season altogether? Try vacationing in another part of the world while your allergens are blooming at home.
14. HIRE A LAWN PERSON. Mowing the grass stirs up a textbook’s worth of pollens and molds, and raking leaves does the same thing. Hire a professional to do both—and suggest they wear a mask.