7 Causes of Nocturnal Asthma Attacks
If you battle your worst asthma symptoms at night and wake up many mornings still feeling tired and out of sorts, you could have nocturnal asthma. As the name implies, this is when asthma strikes at night causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and/or chest pressure. These symptoms can be dangerous if they're left untreated.
Possible Causes of Night Asthma
There's usually not one specific trigger that causes nocturnal asthma. Rather, a number of possible factors can make you more susceptible to having a night asthma attack. Read on to find out what they are and what you can do about them.
- Allergies: Allergy triggers that exist in your bedroom can lead to a nighttime asthma attack. These include dust mites, mold, pet dander, and seasonal allergens that become trapped in your clothing, bedding, and hair. Studies also show that if you're exposed to an allergen before bed, there's a good chance that you could experience a delayed second response at the night. So do what you can to allergy-proof your home and avoid triggers throughout the day.
- Positioning: Lying down flat in bed can bring on an asthma attack because your airways become tighter, making it more difficult for air to flow in and out. This leads to coughing, which prompts your airways to tighten further and can cause an asthma attack. Try using extra pillows to lift your head or putting your mattress at an incline to minimize this risk, or talk to your doctor about other strategies that can make a difference.
- Sinus Issues: While you sleep, your sinuses can drain into the airways and cause an attack if you suffer from allergies, have a cold, or have another illness. Therefore, to treat your nasal symptoms with an antihistamine, decongestant, or nasal spray before you go to bed.
- Reflux: You may find that a bout of gastroesophageal reflux while you sleep can lead to a night asthma attack. Some asthma medications can put you at an increased risk for reflux because they relax the valve that prevents acid from leaving the stomach and traveling back up the esophagus. Left unchecked, the acid can irritate the airways and lead to a full-blown asthma attack. If this is a concern for you, be sure to ask your doctor about using reflux medications.
- Cold Air: If your bedroom room is very cold in the winter or air conditioned in the summer, the cool air can dry out your airways. Make adjustments to the air temperature as needed to head off any breathing issues.
- Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes that commonly occur while you sleep can increase your risk of experiencing nocturnal asthma. Epinephrine keeps your airways open and prevents airway spasms and excessive mucus reproduction. So if this hormone drops at night, you could be more vulnerable to having an attack. Take your asthma medications before bedtime to help prevent this effect.
- Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes a brief lapse in breathing and sometimes occurs in conjunction with asthma. If your doctor suspects you have this problem, it's important to undergo testing to confirm the diagnosis so you can get proper treatment.
Put Your Night Asthma to Sleep
If you're tired of dealing with nocturnal asthma, work with your doctor to identify the specific causes and determine how best to put your symptoms to sleep so you can get the rest you need.
Sources:Lettieri, Christopher J. "An Update on Nocturnal Asthma and the Association With Sleep Disordered Breathing." Medscape Pulmonary Medicine 9 (2) (2005). Web, 18 July 2011.
"Nocturnal Asthma." National Jewish Health. NationalJewish.org, June 2009. Web. 17 July 2011.
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