Nearly 40% of hay fever sufferers find it ‘very difficult’ to sleep during the pollen season. To help combat this issue, many people take ‘drowsy’ antihistamines to enable them to fall asleep faster.
Although these meds provide temporary relief, they can play havoc with our circadian rhythm, making us feel more tired in the long-run.
Thankfully, hay fever symptoms can be tackled in many other ways. In this guide, we’ll explore 20 things you can do to improve your sleep during the pollen season.
How to Stop Hay Fever Disturbing Your Sleep
Hay fever is an allergic reaction, so it cannot be ‘cured’ in the true sense of the word. Nevertheless, there are some ways you can keep hay fever under control at bedtime:
- Avoid Contact with Pollen – We’ll show you how to eradicate pollen from your environment and reduce the risk of contamination in your daily life.
- Decongest your Airways – Hay fever blocks and congests your airways, which often leads to snoring. Anti-inflammatory remedies and corticosteroid nasal sprays can decongest your sinuses and help you breathe more easily.
- Take Antihistamines – An overproduction of histamine causes hay fever symptoms to occur; antihistamines are effective because they prevent this overproduction. We’ll discuss some pharmaceutical and herbal antihistamines.
- Immunotherapy – Gradually exposing yourself to different types of pollen may prevent your body from ‘overreacting’ to this substance.
To get a better night’s sleep, try to combine more than one of these treatments.
What Is Hay Fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. In other words, it is caused by the immune system’s overreaction to pollen. When someone with hay fever inhales pollen particles, their body produces immunoglobulin (IgE) antibodies.
These antibodies release a chemical called histamine to try and fight off the ‘threat’ of pollen. Some histamine is necessary for healing and repair. Unfortunately, an excess of histamine can cause symptoms to develop in the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
Hay fever sufferers can’t control their overreaction to pollen, but they can discourage the buildup of histamines by taking antihistamines.
Pollen is emitted from trees, plants, grasses, and weeds. Approximately 20 types of pollen are responsible for causing the symptoms of hay fever. For example, pollen from ragweed, maple, and oak trees causes an allergic reaction in many people.
Who Gets Hay Fever?
Hay fever affects approximately 60 million people in America. It’s more common in children than adults and sometimes coexists with asthma and eczema.
Children who grow up on farms are much less likely to develop hay fever. Presumably, this is because these children build immunity to pollen at an early age.
Although they build immunity towards local forms of pollen, some may still be allergic to pollen from other parts of the world. For example, it’s not uncommon to experience hay fever for the first time in adulthood, while on vacation in another country.
What Are the Symptoms of Hay Fever?
The symptoms can vary according to the type of pollen in your environment. Also, if your immune system is weakened, your symptoms may be amplified. Hay fever symptoms include:
- A runny or blocked nose
- Sore, red, and itchy eyes (sometimes watering)
- Itchy Ears
- Sneezing regularly
- Snoring at night
- A tickly throat (caused by nasal mucus dripping down the throat)
- Fatigue and malaise
- Shortness of breath and wheezing (this is more likely to occur if you suffer from asthma as well as hay fever)
- Headaches or a sore face
Why Does Hay Fever Make My Face Sore?
Hay fever can block or swell the sinuses. Sinuses (air pockets) are located between the eyes, in the forehead, either side of the nose, and deep within the skull.
In addition to a blocked nose, sinusitis can cause pain in the cheeks, forehead, and around the eyes. Sinusitis can also cause the cheeks to become red and tender.
The most effective treatment for sinus problems appears to be nasal sprays. We’ll explore nasal sprays in more detail a little later.
Why Do Symptoms Get Worse at Bedtime?
If your hay fever gets worse at night, it could be because the pollen count in your environment is higher during the evening hours. Pollen rises during the sunlight hours and starts to settle when the air gets cooler.
In cities, pollen may not ‘settle’ until 10 or 11 pm, because heat takes longer to dissipate in built-up areas. So, if you live in a city, you might experience the worst of your symptoms between 11 and 12 pm.
Also, one of the main symptoms of hay fever is fatigue. This is worsened by ‘drowsy’ antihistamine medication. If you’re weary and less productive during the day, this could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night time.
Can Hay Fever Cause Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when something blocks or obstructs the airways in the nose or throat. Typically, this is caused by being overweight, having a large neck, or nasal congestion.
Allergies (including pollen allergies) can obstruct the nasal passage and lead to episodes of disrupted sleep during the night. As such, some scientists believe that hay fever could lead to obstructive sleep apnea.
For this reason, it’s best to try and relieve congestion in the nostrils so you can breathe easier at night.
Can’t Sleep Due to Hay Fever Tips
Here are some tips to help you sleep much better with hay fever.
Drink Elderflower Tea
Flowers from the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) are thought to modulate immune functioning. In turn, this could prevent the immune system from producing too much histamine. The elderflower plant, also known as ‘elderberry’ and ‘black elder’ is a wild plant, native to Europe and North America.
Try foraging for elderflowers, to make your own tea or cordial. According to many herbalists, drinking elderflower tea significantly reduces sore eyes and sinus pain. To make elderflower tea:
- Take a handful of fresh elderflowers and brush off any dirt with your fingers
- Place the flowers in a small jug with a slice of lemon or lime
- Pour over boiling water and leave to infuse for 5 minutes
- Strain the liquid into a mug and drink
To appreciate the benefits of elderflower, try to drink 2-3 cups daily. If you can’t find any fresh plants to make your own tea, try elderflower teabags instead.
Wash Before Bedtime
Pollen gets stuck to pretty much everything. Make sure you don’t go to bed wearing anything you’ve worn during the day, as you don’t want to introduce pollen into the bedroom. Besides your clothing, be sure to remove your wristwatch, jewelry, and any hairbands you’ve been wearing in the day.
Taking a shower before bed will help remove pollen from your hair and skin. If you’ve spent lots of time outside, use a ‘clarifying’ shampoo on your hair to make sure it’s squeaky clean.
On days when your symptoms are playing up, indulge in a bath, rather than a shower. Try adding a few drops of essential oil to your bath to relieve your aches and itches. According to ‘The Directory of Essential Oils,’ the following oils may relieve the symptoms of hay fever:
Incidentally, lavender, eucalyptus, and chamomile are classic sleep-inducing essential oils. What’s more, taking a hot bath before bed is a proven treatment for sleeplessness.
Keep Your Bedroom Clean
Though you might feel tired during the pollen season, it’s essential to keep on top of the housework, to prevent pollen particles from entering the bedroom. There are lots of steps you can take to exclude pollen. For example:
- Vacuum your bedroom daily and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
- Wash your bedding at least once per week during the pollen season
- Install temporary ‘pollen screens’ on your windows – these allow you to keep your windows open, yet still protect you from harmful allergens.
- If you don’t have pollen screens, ventilate your bedroom during the middle of the day only. Keep windows closed early in the morning and at dusk- when the pollen count is usually at its highest.
Drink Lemongrass Tea
If you don’t fancy trying elderflower tea, lemongrass tea is another beverage that may have ‘antihistamine’ properties. According to a study in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, lemongrass has the power to suppress allergic and inflammatory responses in the body.
To reap the benefits of lemongrass, add a small amount to your cooking during the pollen season. The stalks can be added to stews, curries, and sauces to add flavor. You can make lemongrass tea at home by infusing the stalks in hot water. Alternatively, purchase some dried lemongrass tea bags for a quick-and-easy hay fever fix!
A Teaspoon of Raw, Local Honey
You may be able to desensitize yourself to pollen by consuming a small amount of raw, local honey, early in the season.
The theory is, a small amount of honey (create locally), could ‘immunize’ you against the effects of local pollen.
There are no clinical studies to back up this claim, but there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it works. If you already consume honey, there’s no harm in replacing it with a raw, local variety to see if you notice a difference. Try a small amount, to begin with, in case you experience a strong allergic reaction.
Some doctors say that raw honey and bee pollen do not contain enough pollen to desensitize us. Nevertheless, desensitization therapy is used by clinicians to treat hay fever. ‘Grazax’ is a pharmaceutical drug that features a high dose of pollen. This ‘immunotherapy’ is sometimes prescribed to patients with very severe hay fever.
Take Non-Drowsy Antihistamine Tablets
Taking antihistamine tablets is one of the fastest and most effective ways to dampen hay fever symptoms.
Traditional antihistamine tablets (promethazine and chlorphenamine) can make us feel very sleepy. These work well for some people, though other people find that a drug-induced sleep makes them feel even worse. This is probably because ‘drowsy’ meds mess with our circadian rhythm.
Instead, try taking ‘non-drowsy’ antihistamines such as cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine. These meds are likely to serve you better in the long-run.
Although antihistamines can prevent many hay fever symptoms, they won’t unblock a nose that is already bunged-up. For this reason, make sure you take steps to decongest your airways.
Eat More Quercetin-Rich Foods
There is evidence to suggest that eating foods rich in ‘quercetin’ can help tackle allergies because quercetin stabilizes histamine production and reduces inflammation in the body. In fact, quercetin has been dubbed ‘nature’s antihistamine.’
If you suffer from hay fever regularly, increasing your intake of ‘natural’ antihistamines could be a healthy and affordable way of managing your hay fever. Try to eat the following foods on a regular basis:
If you are unable to get enough quercetin from your diet, it is available in supplement form, too. A study from 2015, published by Acta Bio Medica, found that quercetin and vitamin D3 supplements significantly reduced sneezing, nasal obstruction, and sore throats.
Increase Your Intake of Vitamin C
According to a study on Springer, vitamin C is another one of nature’s antihistamines, so will help to dampen the symptoms of hay fever. As mentioned, antihistamines work to restore homeostasis – or balance – in the body because they prevent the overproduction of histamine.
Vitamin C is not stored in the body, so it needs to be consumed daily. Some foods rich in vitamin C include:
If you suffer badly from hay fever, consider taking supplements in the run-up to the pollen season. Also, include plenty of citrus fruits in your diet because citrus fruits are rich in both vitamin C and quercetin.
Apply a Barrier Balm to Your Nose
To prevent pollen from entering the body, apply some balm around your nostrils. Anecdotally, this seems to be one of the most effective ‘home remedies’ for hay fever.
Most over-the-counter nose balms are made of beeswax and infused with essential oils or fragrances. They should be applied to the nostrils at least every four hours during the pollen season. If you want to make your own barrier balm, follow this recipe:
- Find a small container (i.e., an old lip balm container), wash it thoroughly, and leave to dry
- Gently warm one tablespoon of pure coconut oil and add 1-2 drop of essential oil (lavender or peppermint)
- Pour the mixture into the container and leave to harden
- Apply to the nostrils every four hours
Nose balms are particularly suitable for pregnant women, young children, or anyone who cannot take other forms of hay fever medicine. Also, if you like to sleep with your window open, be sure to apply a thick layer of barrier balm to your nose before going to sleep.
Traditional Chinese Therapy
A study published by Wiley Online found that a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs helped improve the symptoms of allergies (stuffed nose, headache, tiredness, and weeping eyes).
In fact, other studies have shown that acupuncture seems to improve a wide variety of allergic responses – not just hay fever. This is because acupuncture seems to prevent the immune system from producing too much histamine. So, if you’re looking for an evidence-based ‘alternative’ therapy for hay fever, acupuncture could be your best option.
Take Butterbur Extract Before Bed
If you tend to get headaches or sinusitis with your hay fever, then butterbur can provide you with fast-acting relief. Butterbur has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.
Butterbur is a type of shrub. Its roots and leaves have been used to treat asthma, wounds, and allergies for hundreds of years. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, supplementing with butterbur root should alleviate most of the symptoms of hay fever.
Butterbur root extract can be purchased in supplement form. Try taking this in the evening to alleviate nocturnal symptoms.
Soothing Chamomile Eye Mask
One of the symptoms of hay fever is sore and itchy eyes. You should resist itching your eyes as much as possible to avoid infection. There are other ways you can relieve itchy eyes before bed. One way is to prepare an anti-itch eye mask.
- Place two chamomile tea bags in a cup and pour on boiling water
- Leave the tea to cool and then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours
- At bedtime, soak two large cotton pads in the cold chamomile tea and place these pads over your eyes for 5 minutes
This mask will soothe the skin around the eyes and provide immediate relief for hot and itchy eyes.
If you haven’t got time to make the eye mask, you could inhale chamomile essential oil straight from the bottle or place it in a diffuser for 20 minutes before sleeping. The anti-inflammatory properties of this oil should help relieve itchy eyes and a scratchy throat.
Reduce Sugar Intake Before Pollen Season
There is evidence to suggest that a poor diet may aggravate allergies. Specifically, eating too much processed sugar can weaken our immune system and cause inflammatory diseases. If we’re consuming a lot of sugar, we’re also less likely to be consuming anti-oxidant, flavonoid-rich whole foods, which have an ‘antihistamine’ effect on the body.
One month before the pollen season arrives, try to cut out all processed sugar from your diet. Swap processed sugar for naturally sweet fruits and vegetables and see if this improves the symptoms of your hay fever.
Use a Decongestant Nasal Spray
Antihistamines (whether natural or pharmaceutical) work well to relieve most hay fever symptoms, but they aren’t able to clear a nose that’s already been blocked. So, if you’re serious about kicking the hay fever symptoms, you should use some form of a nasal spray.
Depending on the severity of your hay fever, you can buy corticosteroid nasal sprays over the counter, or receive them on prescription. They’ll be valuable for sleep because they’ll help open up the nasal passages.
If your symptoms are mild, or you’re looking for a natural option, try a saline (saltwater) nasal spray instead. Saline sprays help to clear pollen and mucus from the nasal passage. At the same time, they are very gentle, so are suitable for children and pregnant women. Saline nasal sprays can be purchased from most pharmacies, or even made in the home!
If you don’t want to try a conventional spray, you could try sniffing essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus) regularly to open up the airways. Whichever option you go for – don’t overlook the importance of decongestants. Unblocking the nasal passages is crucial for getting a good night’s sleep.
Prop Yourself Up at Night
If you suffer from bad hay fever, sleeping with a few extra pillows could help alleviate your symptoms. Propping yourself up promotes sinus drainage, which means you’re less likely to feel ‘bunged-up’ by your symptoms.
To prop yourself up at night, you could consider sleeping with a memory foam pillow. These stability pillows prevent you from falling flat on your back (as can be the case when sleeping on softer pillows).
Memory foam pillows also keep your neck in alignment with your spine and open your airways. As a result, you’re less likely to experience breathing obstructions.
Drink Guduchi Before Bed
Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) is an herb from the Ayurvedic tradition, valued for its anti-allergenic qualities. There is evidence to suggest that Guduchi could treat hay fever symptoms as effectively as other pharmaceutical drugs.
A study on Science Direct found that taking Guduchi twice a day significantly reduced sneezing, wheezing, and runny nose symptoms. Interestingly, this study found that Guduchi helped relieve the symptoms of eczema and asthma, too.
Guduchi is purchased in a powdered form and added to food and drink. In Ayurvedic tradition, it is dissolved in Aloe Vera juice and consumed twice daily to help boost immunity.
Wash Your Hands with Charcoal Soap
We’ve discussed the importance of washing your bedding regularly, but don’t forget to wash your hands! Even if you spend the whole day inside, washing your hands regularly will reduce the chance of pollen contamination.
We touch our faces countless times throughout the day. As such, keeping allergens away from the hands and nails is vitally important.
Studies have shown that washing with organic charcoal handwash is highly effective at removing toxins, allergens, and other particles from the skin.
Resist the Nightcap
When we’re struggling to sleep, alcohol can be tempting. Unfortunately, as we’re well aware, alcohol disrupts sleep and can make us feel v groggy in the morning. If you’re battling hay fever, there’s an additional reason to turn your back on the booze (at least during the pollen season).
Most alcohol contains a lot of sugar, and sugar is thought to aggravate allergies. Also, alcohol suppresses the immune system.
To support immunity and fight hay fever, replace your regular nightcap with berry juice (rich in vitamin C and quercetin) or pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is rich in bromelain – an enzyme that helps decongest the airways.
Decongest with a Mustard Footbath
A popular way to decongest the airways is to indulge in a facial steam bath. Facials can work wonders on sinus congestion, but they’re not safe for everyone. They can lead to skin scalding, and often cannot be tolerated for more than a few minutes at a time.
A safer option, perhaps, is to relax with a hot mustard footbath. Foot baths can decongest the airways, too. Moreover, foot baths can be tolerated for longer than facial treatments. Try a hot mustard footbath:
- Mix 2 teaspoons mustard powder (or ground mustard seeds) with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil
- Add to a container of hot water and soak your feet for at least 20 minutes
In addition to decongesting your airways, mustard seeds encourage circulation and provide relief to achy joints. If you are feeling sluggish from your hay fever, this stimulating footbath should help you feel yourself again.
This recommendation has been left until last, but it is probably the most important of them all. There are two key reasons why fluids are important. Firstly, hydration may prevent hay fever symptoms from developing in the first place. Failing that, taking on extra fluids should help soothe the sleep-disruptive symptoms of hay fever.
Studies have shown that, when we are dehydrated, our bodies produce more histamine. Histamine overproduction is responsible for causing hay fever symptoms, so we should try to limit histamine production where possible.
If symptoms have already developed, drinking enough fluids will encourage your sinuses to drain. This means mucus is less likely to build up in the nasal passages, and you’re less likely to suffer headaches.
Try to sip water regularly throughout the day, to remain hydrated. Also, keep a glass of water at your bedside, so you don’t become dehydrated during the night.
Could I Be Allergic to Something Else?
Although pollen is a very common allergen, it’s not the only substance that causes these symptoms. If you suffer from a condition called ‘allergic rhinitis’ your immune system could be sensitive to many other allergens. These include:
- Dander (pet hair)
- Dust Mites
Allergic reactions are usually always treated with antihistamines and decongestants (regardless of the cause). Nonetheless, it’s important to determine what your allergen is so that you can eliminate it from your environment.
If you’ve been excluding pollen from your environment, but you’re not seeing an improvement in your symptoms, this suggests you’re dealing with an additional, or alternative, allergy. For example, when a dander allergy happens to arise in summer, some people wrongly assume they’re dealing with hay fever.
If you find you’re allergic to dander, mold, and dust, keeping your bedroom clean will become even more critical. Consider the following suggestions:
- Reduce cushions and unnecessary bedding as these harbor mold spores
- Wool carpets are preferable to synthetic carpets, as they don’t encourage dust mites
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and wash your hands after touching animals
If symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to see a doctor for a specific diagnosis regarding your allergies. This will help you tackle each allergy as effectively as possible.
Is It Hay Fever or Flu?
If you’re coughing, sneezing, and spluttering in the middle of summer – it must be due to hay fever, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes, influenza is misdiagnosed as hay fever. So how can you determine if you’re suffering from hay fever or flu?
- Itchiness – Itchiness (whether in the throat, the nose, or the eyes) is a crucial symptom of hay fever, but it is rarely experienced with a cold or flu.
- Watery Eyes – Hay fever sufferers often experience watery eyes, but the flu does not usually cause this symptom.
- Nasal fluids – If you have hay fever, you’ll produce a lot of clear nasal fluid. If you’re suffering from a bad case of flu, nasal fluids are more likely to be yellow or brown.
Both hay fever and influenza can significantly disturb sleep. It’s important to distinguish between the two because they respond to different types of treatment.
Though allergies cannot be ‘cured,’ hay fever can certainly be managed. Don’t be tempted to reach for the ‘drowsy’ medication too often, as this could make you feel more tired in the long-run.
Creating a barrier between you and the pollen is probably the most effective thing you can do to prevent flare-ups, though don’t overlook the importance of other factors, too.
Modifying your diet, staying hydrated, and experimenting with herbal decongestants can help you take control of your hay fever symptoms for good.