Why Am I Waking up with a Stuffy Nose?

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For lots of people, the first stretch of the morning is reaching for a box of tissues. Why do so many of us wake up with a stuffy nose, even when we’re not sick?

There are several explanations for early morning nasal congestion, also known as rhinitis, and a few of them might surprise you.

The most common reason is allergens

Data from the 2005–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates that roughly 74 percent of us are exposed to 3-6 allergens in our bedrooms each night.

Every time you roll over, adjust your covers, shoo the dog off the bed, or fluff your pillow, you’re sending fresh clouds of allergens into your airways. No wonder our nasal passages become inflamed during the night!

Here’s a list of ordinary bedroom allergens, and what you can do to minimize their effects:

Dust mites

Every home, no matter how immaculately kept, has dust mites.

If you have a dust mite allergy, it’s not the dust or even the mites that are bothering you. Brace yourself. It’s particles of dust mite feces that are causing your sneezing, itchy eyes, and morning congestion.

People who are allergic to dust mites have to deal with it year-round, unlike those who have seasonal allergies.

Reducing dust mitesThe Asthma and Allergy Foundation recommends these steps to reduce dust mite populations in your bedroom:
  • Wash your bedding in hot water very often — at least weekly, or more often if necessary.
  • Keep the thermostat between 64 and 68 degrees, since dust mites thrive in warmer air temperatures.
  • Zip allergen-reducing covers over your mattress and pillows.
  • Use certified allergen-reducing air filters in your home.
  • Avoid having carpets and upholstered furniture in your room.
  • Use a dehumidifier to make it harder for dust mites to survive.
  • Clean your floors with a vacuum that has a certified HEPA filter, and mop to catch the debris your vacuum may miss.
  • Pollen

    Seasonal allergies peak in spring and fall. If you’re allergic to any of the pollen in your area, it could be what’s increasing your nasal mucus or swelling up the tissues in your nose.

    Pollen that triggers your seasonal allergies could be coming from open windows, or they could be entering through your AC ventilation system.

    Doctors at Mayo Clinic recommend these ways to deal with seasonal allergies:

    • Limit your outdoor time on high-pollen days.
    • Delegate outdoor chores to people who aren’t as affected by pollen as you.
    • Use the highest quality air filters to clean the air in your home.
    • Talk to your doctor about immunotherapy, prescription, or over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication to take when seasonal allergies are at their worst.
    • Try acupuncture. In 2015, acupuncture was included in the list of recommended treatment options published by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
    • Try alternative remedies like spirulina and butterbur. The National Institute of Health says there’s evidence that butterbur can reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Studies also show that spirulina has reduced symptoms for people with allergies.

    Mold

    Exposure to mold inside your home could be the nighttime culprit. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology advises people to check the following places for mold:

    • bathrooms
    • basements
    • gutters
    • garbage cans
    • refrigerator drip pans
    • anywhere a leak could have dampened surfaces

    Get cleanup help from professional mold remediators if necessary, and consult with an allergist if you can’t get relief from OTC antihistamines.

    Pet dander

    The American Veterinary Medicine Association estimates that roughly 70 million American homes contain at least one pet. If your beloved dog, cat, or bird shares your nighttime accommodations, it could be making you congested.

    If the morning congestion isn’t worth the evening cuddles, don’t sleep with your pet. You can also take these measures to reduce nasal inflammation and stuffiness:

    • Bathe your pet with an anti-allergen shampoo.
    • Move the litter box out of your bedroom.
    • Opt for hardwood floors to keep dander from settling deep into carpeting.

    Morning stuffiness can also be caused by irritants

    Sometimes the cause of morning stuffiness is not related to allergens, but to irritants that cause your nasal passages to swell up during the night. Here are some of the more common irritants we encounter while we sleep.

    GERD

    Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition where the contents of your stomach flow back up into your throat and nasal passages.

    Studies have shown that GERD is often associated with rhinitis. Symptoms of GERD can worsen at night, when your sleeping position can make the trickle-back problem worse.

    Ways to help GERD symptoms at nightTo lessen the impact of GERD when you try to sleep, try:
  • raising one end of your mattress
  • avoiding late-night meals and snacks
  • sleeping in pajamas that don’t bind at the waist
  • Tobacco smoke

    If you’re exposed to smoke during the day or if someone in your household is a smoker, you may experience rhinitis early in the morning. Secondhand smoke can also increase your risk of developing chronic sinus problems.

    Talk to your doctor about what medications to take, and watch out if you’re taking OTC decongestants: Doctors at Mayo Clinic say too much can actually make the inflammation worse.

    Or the cause could be changes in your body

    Hormones

    The hormonal changes you experience during pregnancy and menstruation can also cause morning stuffiness.

    Around 39 percent of pregnant women experience pregnancy-related rhinitis. Studies show that these methods can help safely alleviate the symptoms:

    • irrigating your nose with salt water and a Neti pot
    • exercise
    • using nasal dilators like Breathe Right strips

    The bottom line

    If you wake up with a stuffy nose and you don’t have a cold or the flu, you may be dealing with allergic or non-allergic rhinitis.

    Your nasal congestion could be caused by dust mites, seasonal allergies, pet dander, reflux disease, hormonal changes, or chemicals in your environment like secondhand smoke.

    Take steps to reduce your exposure to the offending irritants by keeping bedding clean, keeping bedroom fibers like carpets and upholstered furniture to a minimum, and keeping pets out of the room.

    Air filters on your AC system and vacuum cleaner will help, but you may want to talk to your doctor about antihistamines, decongestants, and natural remedies that will lessen your symptoms.

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