Morning allergies: symptoms, prevention and treatment
Have you ever woken up in the morning with congestion, irritation, and red, watery eyes? If so, you could have morning allergy symptoms.
There are many factors that can cause morning allergies. Usually, if your symptoms get worse in the morning, it can be caused by dust mites, which tend to settle in people’s bedding. But these allergies can also be caused by pollen and animal dander.
Learn more about morning allergies, their causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment methods.
Common causes of morning allergies
Whether you have hay fever or a dust mite allergy, it’s common to wake up with a sneeze when you have allergies. There are several reasons that can happen, including:
- Higher pollen counts in the morning
- Dust mites that live in and around your bed
- Pet dander that accumulates in your bedroom
Allergies are common and affect more than 50 million Americans each year.
As unpleasant as it may sound, dust mite allergies are not actually an allergy to dust or mites. Rather, it is the mite’s droppings that actually contain the allergen (the substance that triggers an allergic reaction). Unlike pollen allergies, dust mite allergies occur year round because they live inside your home.
Dust mites can live anywhere, but they especially like rugs, bedding, curtains, and upholstered furniture. It is not possible to eliminate the mites.
Symptoms of dust mite allergies are usually worse in the morning because you are exposed to the allergen while you sleep.
Pollen allergy, also known as hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, is one of the most common allergies. In the United States, it affects 7.7% of adults and 7.2% of children.
Plants release pollen to fertilize other plants of the same species. Pollen allergies are caused by a reaction to the pollen that plants and trees release in spring, summer, and fall.
Common pollen allergies include:
Symptoms of pollen allergies are often worse in the morning. Plus, pollen can stick to your clothes, which means you carry the allergen with you throughout the day. Plus, if you sleep with the windows open, you can be exposed to pollen overnight.
Pet allergies often occur in people who have other allergies or asthma. In fact, up to 30% of allergy sufferers are also allergic to cat and dog dander.
Cats vs. Dogs
Allergies to cats are twice as common as allergies to dogs.
People with allergies to pets react to proteins in an animal’s urine, saliva, or dander (dead skin cells). People often mistake animal hair or fur for an allergen, but this is not the case. However, animal hair or fur can carry allergens.
Symptoms of pet allergies can occur in the morning, especially if your pet is sleeping in your room with you. You can find morning allergy relief if you keep your pet out of your bedroom and change clothes before going to bed.
Mold can be found indoors and outdoors, which means you can have mold allergies year round. When a mold source is disturbed, spores are released into the air. For the allergic person, inhaling them may trigger a reaction.
Indoors, mold can be found in damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens and basements. Common places to find mold outdoors include:
- Dead leaves
Symptoms of allergies in the morning
Allergy symptoms in the morning are the same as allergy symptoms at any other time of the day. However, morning allergic symptoms are sometimes more severe. They may include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Swollen eyes
- Itchy ears
In severe cases, you may experience asthma-like symptoms. These can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing.
Cats and asthma attacks
Cats can trigger a severe asthma episode in up to 30% of people with asthma.
Diagnosis of morning allergies
Doctors diagnose allergies based on your symptoms and tests that confirm an allergic reaction. Morning allergies are diagnosed when your symptoms first appear in the morning. Diagnosis may include:
- Medical background: Your doctor or an allergist (doctor specializing in allergies and allergic asthma) will take your medical history, including if you have a family history of allergies or asthma. The doctor will also do a physical exam.
- Symptom assessment: Your doctor will assess your symptoms, including what triggers them and when they happen most often.
- Allergy tests: This may include skin tests, blood tests, or both.
Skin tests are considered the gold standard for determining what a person is allergic to. These tests are performed in the office of an allergist. The two types of skin tests are:
- Scratch test: Drops of an allergen are scratched on the skin, then the location is observed for a reaction.
- Intradermal test: A small amount of the allergen is injected under the skin, then the location is observed for a reaction.
With a blood test, a phlebotomist takes your blood and a lab professional assesses it. They specifically look for immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in response to allergens.
IgE is a type of antibody that is produced when a person is sensitized to an allergen. A specific IgE test can identify what you are allergic to.
Ways to prevent morning allergy triggers
The good news is that there are steps you can take to limit your morning allergy symptoms. Some things to try include:
- Keep windows closed: When the pollen count is high, close the windows and use the air conditioning instead.
- Take allergy medication: When taken before exposure to pollen, antihistamines can keep your allergy symptoms at bay.
- Shower before bed: Showering will remove pollen from your skin and hair. Also, be sure to put on clothes that haven’t been exposed to allergens before bed.
- Lower humidity: It can help reduce allergies to dust mites and indoor molds.
- Clean regularly: Cover your mattress and pillows with special dust mite covers and wash your bedding in hot water every week. Also, dust hard surfaces and vacuum carpets, especially those in the bedroom.
- Replace carpet with hard floor: Pet dander and mites love to hide in carpets. If you can’t replace all the rugs in the house, start with the one in your bedroom.
When to seek professional treatment
Often, morning allergies are a mild, sometimes seasonal, nuisance. Other times they are more severe. In this case, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor.
If lifestyle adjustments and over-the-counter antihistamines (OTC) aren’t helping, you may want to see your doctor for a formal diagnosis and treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend intranasal corticosteroids, some of which are available over the counter.
Immunotherapy (called allergy shots) can also help control allergies when it is difficult to avoid triggers. Your allergist will formulate them to help you desensitize yourself to allergens. They are particularly useful against common triggers of morning allergies.
Immediate medical attention
If you have asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing, see a doctor immediately.
Allergy symptoms experienced in the morning may be due to pollen, dust mites, pets, or mold. An allergist can help you identify the source of your allergy and recommend lifestyle adjustments and medications that can help manage it.
A word from Verywell
If you are looking to relieve your morning allergies, there are some things you can do. Identifying the source of your allergy is an important starting point.
Often times, people can guess what they are allergic to based on when their symptoms appear and what triggers them. However, the only definitive way to identify your allergy is with the allergy test.
You may be able to reduce your morning allergy symptoms by cleaning your bedroom and bedding often, using dust mite covers for pillows and bedding, showering before bed, removing carpet from your bedroom and keeping your windows closed at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can my morning allergies be cured?
Allergies, including those that show symptoms in the morning, can sometimes be cured by using allergy shots. Morning allergies can be managed with lifestyle changes, avoiding allergens, and with medication.
Do morning allergies cause headaches and other symptoms?
Yes, sinus headaches and migraines have been linked to allergies. This is because allergies can cause the sinus cavities to swell, causing pain and pressure.
How long will my morning allergies last?
The duration of morning allergies depends on their cause. If, for example, your morning allergies are caused by a seasonal pollen allergy, then your morning allergies should subside as the pollen count goes down. Plus, you can manage your symptoms by avoiding triggers or taking over-the-counter or prescription medications.