Spring has sprung and the pollen season is now in full swing.
As the warm weather begins, more pollen is being released into the air and hay fever suffers are spending their days sniffing, sneezing and scratching their eyes.
But allergies are not the only thing that South Africans need to worry about this season, as the warm weather is also believed to affect the sleeping patterns of more than 11.4 million hay fever sufferers.
This phenomenon is known as “insneezia”, a combination of insomnia and sneezing symptoms that occur at night.
Higher pollen levels are typically associated with daytime, but “many allergy sufferers experience a worsening of hay fever symptoms at night, which leads to insomnia”, says Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics.
Recent studies suggest that elevated concentrations of certain airborne pollen are also high at night and are in fact comparable to daytime pollen values.
Here's what you need to know about insneezia and what you can do to ease the symptoms.
What is insneezia?
Insneezia is a term that refers to a combination of insomnia and sneezing symptoms that plague about two-thirds of hay fever sufferers.
Insneezia is usually the result of pollen that rises into the lower atmosphere during the day and then falls back to the ground as the temperature drops in the evening, Nicole says.
“Certain types of pollen are more likely to find their way into the air during the evening due to their size, while some plants release pollen later in the day, which exposes hay fever sufferers to higher levels of pollen at night,” she says.
Many studies suggest hay fever symptoms are the primary contributor to disrupted sleep and daytime drowsiness. Sleep disturbances affect about 88% of children who suffer from hay fever and between 48% to 68% of adult sufferers, Nicole says.
However, it’s a myth that hay fever only occurs in spring.
“South Africa’s pollen seasons vary from one province to another,” she says. “The season typically starts with the flowering of trees from August to October, after which grasses take over. Depending on where you live, the grass pollen season can last up until April/May,” she adds.
Pollen is a fine powder that circulates in the air and irritates the eyes and airways when inhaled through the mouth or nose.
“About 30% of South Africans suffer from hay fever, which is also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis,” Nicole says.
Nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes are all symptoms that keep hay fever sufferers from getting some shuteye. And this season has been particularly bad, she adds.
Ways to ease the symptoms
“Knowing how to manage pollen allergies during the day and night will be your best defence against insneezia and will ensure you wake up refreshed in the morning,” Nicole says.
She suggests the following actions:
1. Taking an antihistamine at least three hours before going to bed.
2. Using a nasal barrier spray, which creates a protective lining inside the nose and prevents fine pollen particles from being inhaled.
3. Keeping windows closed and opting for air-conditioning instead.
4. Taking a shower and washing hair before going to bed, as pollen can enter your home via your skin, clothing, hair or pets.
5. Washing pillows and bed sheets regularly. Floors, carpets and rugs also need to be vacuumed weekly.
6. Using air purifiers to help remove allergens in your home.
7. Wearing a mask and sunglasses when exercising outdoors.