SLEEP HYGIENE TIP OF THE WEEK: Using CPAP with a head cold

When the cold and flu season hits, the inconvenience of dealing with viral symptoms can be magnified if you’re also using a PAP device (CPAP, BiPAP, APAP). Some people think it is better not to use your PAP therapy at this time, but the truth is, you still need it, even if you experience more discomfort while asleep. Your body will get through a respiratory illness more quickly if you continue your therapy because it will have more sleep (even if it doesn’t consciously feel like it).

Here are some tips to stay the course through those nights when sore throats, runny noses, congested sinuses and coughs crop up this winter.

  1. Adjust your sleeping position. A runny nose or congestion can make breathing very comfortable while you sleep. Try sleeping on your side, which will use gravity to drain your sinuses (one side at a time). If you have a reclining chair, that might also be helpful for the same reason. You don’t want phlegm collecting in the back of your throat, which will just worsen matters. Avoid sleeping on your back or completely flat; even elevating the head of your bed by 3 inches can make a big difference.
  2. Make sure you use your humidifier. The warm moist air will really help your passages remain pliable and comfortable through the course of a virus.

    If you don’t know how to use your humidifier, ask the CPAP specialist who initially set you up with your current machine. Some people normally don’t use the humidifier, but may turn it on just for head colds or allergies.

    If you have an older machine, it may not have a humidifier, or if it has a humidifier, it may not have a heated setting. If you get a lot of respiratory illnesses during the winter, you should ask your doctor about updating your machine to one with a heated humidifier.

  3. Try using nasal sprays. These can be a quick, easy and affordable solution. Look for sprays which are designed for decongestion. Even a simple saline nasal spray (or gel) can help relieve stuffiness. If you have allergies, opt for a spray with an antihistamine in it, if you don’t already have one.

    Avoid any over-the-counter spray which causes sedation; this can worsen your apnea. Unsure which spray is best for you? Ask your pharmacist.

  4. Similarly, consider menthol. Menthol can help to clear blocked nasal passages pretty swiftly.

    You won’t want to suck on menthol drops while trying to sleep, as that is an obvious choking hazard, but you could have a drop right before bed to help open up your airways.

    Also, 15 minutes before bed, try rubbing a little menthol ointment on your chest and let the vapors rise and help decongest your airways before applying your mask.

    Sometimes the challenge is just getting to sleep; once asleep, the humidity from PAP therapy can often take over and keep everything clear.

    Please do not add menthol products to your PAP humidity reservoir without first checking with your mask and PAP machine user’s manuals to ensure you can safely do so; if so, they will also advise on which kinds of menthol products and how much to use.

  5. Try cleansing your sinuses with a neti pot. These are little bulb- or teapot-shaped vessels that help you to flush your nasal passages out. They can be found in most drugstores and are often an effective pre-sleep solution for anyone with a problem with congestion.
  6. Switch to a different style mask. There are many patients who have more than one mask. They use their nasal or pillow mask for normal use but switch to a full-face mask if they find they are breathing through the mouth, as full-face masks cover both mouth and nose and allow for oral breathing. Pillow masks are sometimes difficult to wear if the nose it sore and swollen; a nasal mask might be a good alternative if you aren’t mouth breathing. However, having a head cold leads to mouth breathing even in those who don’t normally do so; it might be worth it to look into having a spare full-face mask on hand for this reason.
  7. If you use CPAP, consider APAP. This is a more expensive solution but if you suffer from seasonal allergies or viruses on a regular basis, the “smart technology” in an AutoPAP (or APAP) might help you breathe better when congestion is a regular problem. The APAP delivery system senses your need for more or less pressure and automatically adjusts, unlike the CPAP which, as its names suggests, only delivers one continuous pressure. Discuss this option with your physician; you will need a prescription in order to acquire one of these.

Here’s what a simple neti pot looks like; there are also
more extravagant ones, but a simple over-the-counter
product can be just as effective.

Finally, keep everything clean! You should be vigilant about cleaning your PAP tubing and mask anyway, but if not, NOW is the time to change that bad habit to make it a regular part of your daily routine. Learn some basics here.
Keeping your tubing, masks and accessories clean and sterile is necessary to prevent the growth of bacteria inside your equipment, which can actually make you even sicker (or cause illness when you aren’t sick).

Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning your PAP-related items or, if you know you are just not going to follow through on a daily regimen, look into one of the new PAP cleaning kits now available which sanitize all of your items with the push of a button.

About Tamara Kaye Sellman (621 Articles)

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