Fall in Texas means football, chili, not-so-chilly temps, and lots of sneezing for many people. It's the time of year that ragweed pollen runs rampant, so you're probably chalking those sneezes, coughs and sniffles up to allergic rhinitis (also known as "the crud" or allergies). But what if it is something more?

And no, we're not talking about COVID-19 this time. We're actually talking about another serious condition that often goes undiagnosed and has serious health consequences. That condition is obstructive sleep apnea.


Allergies or Sleep Apnea?

Allergies often cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages and tissues of the upper airway. This can often interrupt your sleep because the nasal congestion that develops due to irritation can block your airway, making breathing difficult. It can also lead to snoring and leave you feeling tired the next day.

While allergies are frustrating, they're seasonal and temporary, unlike obstructive sleep apnea, which can be chronic in some individuals.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions can last several seconds to more than a minute and occur dozens to hundreds of times a night.

These repeated breathing interruptions can be caused by the muscles of the throat and upper airway constricting to cut off the flow of air, causing snoring.

So, with symptoms that seem so similar, how do you know when it's seasonal allergies or sleep apnea? And what if it is sleep apnea — how is it treated?

Don't stress — we've broken down the two for you. We're also going to tell you how sleep apnea is treated and why you should treat it to get a great night's sleep.


Allergies

As we mentioned, allergies can contribute to inflammation, irritation and nasal congestion. This is often referred to as allergic rhinitis or "hay fever." This allergic reaction develops from breathing in an allergen such as pollen, pet dander or dust.


The Symptoms of Allergies

After breathing in an allergen, most individuals experience symptoms such as:

-Itchy nose and throat
-Itchy and watery eyes
-Skin reaction such as rash or eczema
-Decreased smell or loss of smell
-Sinus and nasal congestion
-Runny nose
-Sneezing and coughing
-Clogged ears
-Sore throat
-Puffiness and dark circles under the eyes
-Fatigue
-Irritability
-Headache and facial pain


Allergy Treatment

In most cases, you may be able to control your seasonal allergies with over-the-counter medications known as antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Zyrtec or Claritin. Other drugs can help, too, such as store-bought decongestants like Sudafed. Some individuals find relief with steroid nasal sprays like Flonase or even saline nasal sprays. If your allergies are severe, we recommend talking to your doctor about regular allergy shots.

Some individuals with severe seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis also see improvements after using home air-filtering systems, hypoallergenic pillows and humidifiers to reduce sinus congestion.


Obstructive Sleep Apnea

As we mentioned, obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder characterized by regular breathing interruptions during sleep. These interruptions are caused by something physically preventing the flow of air into the lungs.

The condition affects more than 20 million people in the United States, many of them undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

As you can imagine, the effects of the sleep disorder include poor sleep quality and other symptoms such as:

-Constant breathing interruptions
-Loud snoring or gasping during sleep
-Waking up throughout the night, restlessness during sleep
-Excessive daytime sleepiness
-Chronic morning headaches or migraines
-High blood pressure
-Mood swings, irritability, depression and anxiety
-Obesity or unexplained weight gain, difficulty losing weight
-High blood pressure


Sleep Apnea Treatment

If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, we suggest that you talk to us about a sleep study. This diagnostic test will help determine if you are experiencing breathing interruptions during sleep or if something else is happening when you're sleeping. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a few different treatments available to you.

The most common and best known treatment for the condition is the CPAP machine, also known as continuous positive airway pressure machine. This device is designed to keep your airway open by blowing air into the upper airway to prevent throat muscle collapse. CPAP machines are widely prescribed; however, those living with sleep apnea do not always feel comfortable using them. As many as 30 to 50 percent of those prescribed a CPAP report they are not using the machine because it is noisy, uncomfortable or causes feelings of claustrophobia.

An alternative to the CPAP is an oral device known as a tongue-retaining device or mandibular advancement device. These appliances are custom-fitted and help to keep your airway open.

Other treatments can include lifestyle changes and behavior changes, such as weight loss, changing sleep position and limiting alcohol consumption.


Why Treat Sleep Apnea?

Although both allergies and obstructive sleep apnea can negatively affect your sleep quality, leaving you tired and without energy, you must treat your OSA.

This is because untreated sleep apnea can result in serious health problems, including stroke and cardiac conditions such as heart attack, arrhythmia and heart disease. Obstructive sleep apnea has also been connected to liver conditions, some forms of cancer and diabetes.

The sleep breathing disorder has also been shown to increase the risk of developing behavioral disorders such as depression and anxiety.

If you're still unsure if you're struggling with allergic rhinitis caused by seasonal allergies or the sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea, give us a call today to schedule a consultation.


Other Conditions Affecting Breathing

Breathing obstruction and chronic congestion can also be caused by facial growth problems. For example, if the face grows longer than wider, airway obstructions including congestion and swollen tonsils and adenoids can develop and contribute to sleep interruption and mouth breathing.

Mouth breathing can also impact overall health, because natural — and critical — nasal functions such as filtering for germs and microbes, humidification and warming, fail to occur.

As air passes through the nose, it is warmed, humidified and cleansed of foreign particles, pollen and bacteria.

Nasal breathing also means less oxygen and more oxidative stress on the body's cells and tissues.

Facial development issues also can also mean a narrower airway, which means more potential for breathing interruptions, contributing to an increased risk of sleep apnea.

For adults, sleep apnea has significant health consequences. The same goes for children. In addition to the health concerns we've mentioned above, children often experience difficulty concentrating, frequent headaches and nightmares, behavioral issues, and problems in school. Many children with breathing interruptions also experience:

-Snoring, sleep apnea or nightmares
-Excessive daytime sleepiness
-Awakenings at night
-Restlessness and frequent awakenings during sleep
-In this instance, a CPAP machine or oral appliance may be ordered, but fixing the cause of the issue by treating facial growth issues is critical for true relief. We can help treat facial growth issues through the use of RAGGA (removable
anterior growth guidance appliance).

These appliances can help correct facial growth issues and midface deficiencies to improve the upper airway and reduce the risk of breathing obstruction.

Learn more about sleep apnea, RAGGA and how we can help by calling us today at 254-799-9540 for a consultation.