As the sun sets, many hay fever sufferers start to dread the potential impact it could have on their condition. For some, the appearance of some creeping, rising symptoms – scratchy throat, sneezing, runny nose – is almost inevitable, despite them taking their medication as prescribed.
But why does hay fever seem to worsen at night? And is there anything that can be done to alleviate the symptoms?
Firstly, it’s worth understanding that hay fever, or allergic rhinitis to give it its medical name, is a reaction to pollen. The body’s immune system identifies these particles as harmful intruders and kicks out a chemical called histamine to fight them off. Histamine is what causes the common symptoms of hay fever, such as inflammation, itching and sneezing.
If left to their own devices, many hay fever sufferers would be fine. However, most people – particularly in built-up urban areas – spend long periods of time indoors exposed to all kinds of pollutants and toxins, such as house mites or smoke. Coupled with the fact that many have fairly poor diets, often high in processed foods, means that their immune system is under stress and can’t operate at full capacity.
This means that when it comes to the hay fever season, their immune systems are weaker than they could be, making them more prone to hay fever outbreaks. And at night, several factors come into play that intensify that vulnerability.
The role of pollen
A key reason hay fever seems to get worse at night is due to pollen levels. In the early morning, pollen levels are usually at their highest, but by the evening, they have descended, as the day’s warmth evaporates moisture out the air that the pollen can stick to. But that doesn’t mean that all pollen has disappeared altogether; some particles can become trapped indoors during the day, and when combined with other indoor allergens, can intensify symptoms as the sun goes down.
For many hay fever sufferers, indoor irritants are also a huge problem. Since staying indoors all day isn’t always an option, we’re often exposed to allergy-causing dust, chemicals found in a range of cleaning materials, and even pet dander (tiny bits of skin containing allergens) that sticks to our skin and clothes throughout the day.
At night, these irritants can become trapped in bedding or other fabrics in the home, meaning that as we sleep and move around, we’re exposed to even higher levels of allergens. This can lead to increased itchiness, sneezing, and overall discomfort that only gets worse throughout the night.
Increased stress levels
Finally, stress is also a major factor in the severity of hay fever. As we all know, stress can impact the immune system in ways that leave us more susceptible to a range of health problems, including allergies. So, for those who experience high levels of stress throughout the day, the added stress of trying to fall asleep can exasperate their hay fever symptoms, leading to a restless, uncomfortable night.
What can be done to alleviate night-time hay fever?
Fortunately, there are several steps that hay fever sufferers can take in order to alleviate their symptoms, even during the night.
One of the easiest is to switch up your bedtime routine. During the hay fever season, try showering and washing your hair before hitting the sack to remove any pollen, dust, or other irritants that may have accumulated during the day. Also, try to avoid sleeping with pets, which can leave skin particles and hairs in bedding that can further irritate your allergies.
You should always give your bedding a good clean too. Try washing it regularly at high temperatures, as this can help to eliminate any allergens that have become trapped there over time. And finally, ensure your room is adequately ventilated throughout the day, as this can help to reduce the number of indoor allergens that can exacerbate nighttime symptoms.
Ultimately, night-time hay fever can be infuriating, but by following a few simple steps and considering some of the factors that make it worse during the night, you can help to alleviate many of the symptoms you experience and get a better night’s rest.