Allergies and Sleep Apnea: Finding Relief During Allergy Season

by | Last updated Mar 9, 2022

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With the arrival of spring, you’re likely welcoming the longer sunny days, but for many, the return of warmer weather means it’s allergy season. 

Allergies can affect your quality of life. Quite often allergies or their treatment can lead to feelings of extreme fatigue and lack of sleep. This is especially true when you’re experiencing nighttime allergy symptoms or if you have allergies and sleep apnea. 

A very common condition associated with seasonal allergies is seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (AR) which often causes disrupted sleep throughout the night or makes it more difficult to fall asleep easily. Compound your sleep disturbance with snoring, disrupted breathing, or sleep apnea (aka sleep-disordered breathing) and you have the makings of a very long and uncomfortable period of the year.

Most allergy sufferers with allergies and sleep apnea report experiencing restless nights, foggy brain, and exhaustion during the day. 

Can you relate?

If you’re undiagnosed or not sure whether you have sleep-disordered breathing it helps to recognize the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

Although sleep apnea and allergies don’t always exist together, there is a strong connection. 

Can Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?

Allergies don’t directly cause the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea, but nasal congestion caused by seasonal allergies can lead to more frequent obstructions and longer pauses in breath if you have sleep apnea. 

If you’re not sure if you have sleep apnea, here are a few questions to consider: 

  • Do you snore or stop breathing at night which becomes worse during allergy season? 
  • Do you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep even after sleeping seven hours or more, and this becomes even more noticeable when suffering from allergies? 
  • Do you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth, sore throat, and/or headache regularly?

These are all signs you may have sleep-disordered breathing. If you experience any of those symptoms it is important to be checked for sleep apnea by a qualified professional. 

Allergies and Sleep

Allergies don’t just affect people with obstructive sleep apnea. They affect everyone who experiences allergic reactions because they disrupt all sleep.

Allergic rhinitis, caused by seasonal allergies (it can also be triggered by allergic reactions to food), result from an allergen or irritants such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites entering your nasal passages. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion or swollen nasal passage
  • Itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose
  • Ear infection
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Sinus infection
  • Daytime sleepiness

Symptoms can occur during the day and at night, but nighttime symptoms impact your quality of sleep most. Although all allergies can make you tired, nighttime allergy symptoms contribute to daytime fatigue and make pre-existing sleep conditions worse. 

Daytime allergy symptoms also lead to allergy fatigue which makes getting the right amount of quality sleep imperative. 

Allergy fatigue is the result of your body working hard to fight off an unexpected invader. When you have an allergic response to something like dust, pollen, or pet dander, your body releases proteins called cytokines, which can cause inflammation in your nose. It’s similar to the way your body fights a virus like the common cold or the flu, which can also leave you feeling drained.

Check out our Eight Tips for Nighttime Allergy Relief for effective ways to prevent your nighttime allergy symptoms. Tip #5 is often overlooked. 

Allergies Connection to Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway is obstructed during sleep, resulting in sleep-disordered breathing such as snoring, or brief periods where a person stops breathing altogether. 

Familiar allergy symptoms like congestion or a runny nose can contribute to breathing difficulties, but less obvious factors exist as well. 

Seasonal allergies can irritate the tonsils or adenoids— the tissue high in the throat— causing them to grow larger, potentially creating a blocked airway that can lead to OSA. 

In a study published in the American Review of Respiratory Disease, research has found that obstructive sleep apneas are longer and more frequent in patients with allergies than those without. 

Sleep Apnea and Allergy Relief 

Allergies make obstructed breathing worse. 

While allergies can generally be treated with common allergy treatment medications or changes at home, allergies combined with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) require more specific treatment options, such as CPAP therapy. 

CPAP— Continuous Positive Airway Pressure— is a common treatment for OSA. It keeps your airways open while you sleep, effectively relieving the disordered breathing that comes with OSA, as well as breathing related to nighttime allergies. 

Our patients who are already being treated with positive airway pressure (PAP) or CPAP, often ask us – is it okay to use CPAP with allergies? 

The answer is yes. If your congestion is making it difficult to use your CPAP machine though, we recommend looking at different mask options. A different mask may be key to ensuring you continue using your CPAP machine when suffering from allergies. 

CPAP masks consist of either a nasal appliance, an oral appliance, or both. Not every mask will be appropriate for every use, which is why these options are available depending on your specific needs.

Best CPAP Mask for Seasonal Allergies

Allergies make breathing through the nose difficult because the inflammatory response creates a nasal obstruction.

It’s difficult to get enough air when the nose is congested. In these instances, you’re more likely to experience effective treatment from a full-face mask than from a nasal mask. 

A nasal mask only delivers air through your nose. A full-face mask delivers air through both the mouth and nose.  

A full-face mask ensures you’re receiving air even when your nose is congested. 

If you prefer a nasal mask over a full-face mask, you can revert back to using your nasal mask or nasal pillows after allergy season ends. 

CPAP Alternative for Severe Allergies

If you have severe allergies, you may need advanced CPAP technology in the form of APAP— automatic positive airway pressure. 

APAP is designed to deliver different amounts of air as needed to keep up with nighttime breathing fluctuations. If you suffer from severe seasonal allergies an APAP machine can ensure you get the right amount of air you need when sleeping.

What To Do If Allergies Are Affecting Your Sleep Apnea Treatment

If your allergies are interfering with your sleep apnea therapy, we encourage you to talk to your doctor or sleep therapist about possible solutions, such as switching to a different CPAP mask (or worst-case scenario, a different type of PAP therapy machine).

Getting Tested For Sleep Apnea

While allergies can create difficulty for anyone to get good sleep, it’s important to determine whether your allergies are creating a temporary issue, or if they’re worsening something more serious – like sleep apnea. 

If you’re undiagnosed but believe your nighttime allergy breathing is being made worse because of sleep-disordered breathing, you can take important steps to get tested. 

Testing can be as easy as taking a simple home sleep apnea test to reveal underlying issues, although in some cases a sleep study is needed. 

If diagnosed, and with proper treatment, your sleep can vastly improve during allergy season. Before long you’ll be getting restful sleep each night.

If you are struggling with nighttime allergies and obstructive sleep apnea, contact our sleep medicine center today to schedule an assessment of your needs.


McNicholas, W T, et al. “Obstructive Apneas during Sleep in Patients with Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis.” The American Review of Respiratory Disease, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 1982,

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