Asthma and Sleep

Medically known as reactive airway disease, asthma is a chronic lung condition which affects about 20 million Americans, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Causes and Symptoms of Asthma

Symptoms of asthma include an inflamed, narrowed airway which makes breathing difficult and causes coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

The cause of asthma is still unknown, but it may be the result of exposure to environmental factors like pollution and indoor allergens. Research has also tied asthma to obesity. Whatever the cause, asthma is a serious condition which can interfere with daily life and lead to potentially fatal asthma attacks. Although it has no cure, the symptoms can be managed.

While the cause of asthma is unknown, people who have the condition should be aware of what may trigger an asthma attack. The following are common triggers:

  • Common cold or respiratory infections
  • Viruses such as the flu
  • Dust/or dust mites
  • Allergens such as mold
  • Exercise
  • Strong odors
  • Pet dander
  • Smoke
  • Weather, cold air
  • Food allergens such as peanuts or shellfish
  • Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or beta blockers
  • Strong emotions or stress
  • Menstrual cycle for some women

Some evidence exists that people who have asthma are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep.

Sleeping and Asthma

Researchers use the term “nocturnal asthma” in relation to asthma symptoms worsening at night. Sleep problems are common for those with asthma, as sufferers may experience nighttime coughing, wheezing and breathlessness. Other symptoms include chest tightness, shortness of breath and daytime sleepiness.

The exact reason why asthma can worsen at night is unknown, but there are several theories, which include increased exposure to allergens, the reclined position during sleep, airway cooling, and hormone secretions.

Asthma typically begins in childhood and is more common in children than in adults. A 2005 poll conducted by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that as many as half of child asthma sufferers experience disrupted sleep as a result of their condition. Asthma is one of the most common reasons why children miss school, as well, according to The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Often, children with nocturnal asthma sleep disturbances also have psychological problems and reduced productivity at school. However, research published in the Archives of Diseases in Children found that by treating nocturnal asthma and reducing sleep disturbance, mental function improved.

Asthma Treatment

Patients who experience nocturnal asthma meet criteria for having a moderate or severe persistent condition according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute guidelines. The goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms as there is no cure for asthma. Your physician may prescribe the following treatment methods for you if you suffer from nocturnal asthma:

  • Inhaled steroids
  • Inhaled cromolyn sodium
  • Inhaled nedocromil sodium
  • Leukotriene modifier
  • Long-lasting beta2-agonist

There are also quick-relief medications which are inhaled to relieve asthma symptoms immediately. They work right away and last for a few hours, and include:

  • Inhaled short-acting Beta2-agonists
  • Anticholingeric
  • Steroid

You can also measure how your lung function changes throughout the day and night by using a peak flow meter. If you notice a particular pattern of lung function, discuss it with your doctor in an attempt to resolve nighttime asthma concerns. Your physician will be able to prescribe the right treatment for you depending on your type of asthma and asthma severity.

To learn more about asthma and sleep disorders, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.