Should I Use CPAP with a Cold? How to Avoid Nasal Congestion and Cough

Medications May Provide Relief and Pressure Improves Symptoms

CPAP therapy use during a cold may help relieve nasal congestion
CPAP therapy use during a cold may help relieve nasal congestion. Getty Images

If you catch a cold during the winter, you might question: Should I use CPAP with a cold? Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is an effective treatment for sleep apnea, but if you become congested with a cold or have a cough, you may wonder if you should take a break from using it. Discover the potential benefits of using CPAP during a cold, treatments that may improve nasal congestion and cough, and how to clean up your equipment after you have recovered.

Symptoms Associated with a Common Cold May Interfere with CPAP Use

Upper respiratory infections such as the common cold may make it more difficult to use CPAP. Similar to what occurs with allergies, the nose may become congested and runny. A stuffy nose may make it hard to breathe with the machine. The discharge of snot or mucus may dirty the CPAP mask, especially if you use nasal pillows. The flow of air may also cause irritation if you have a sore throat and provoke coughing spells. Each time you cough, opening the mouth may make the pressure uncomfortable. What should you do?

Can You Take a Break from CPAP Use During a Cold?

It is fine to take a break from using CPAP if you have a cold. There will be no major side effects from abruptly stopping therapy. Make certain that you do not drive if you are too drowsy. You may find that you have a residual benefit from the treatment, even several days into the break.

This is because the inflammation and swelling of the tissues in the upper airway will take time to become affected again. Try to get back to treatment as soon as you can.

How to Continue CPAP Use with Nasal Congestion

If you decide to continue using your CPAP during your cold, you may find it helpful to use a medication to alleviate a stuffy nose.

Over-the-counter saline spray is inexpensive and effective. It can be used as often as you need it and will moisten the lining of the nose. Afrin spray may also provide relief, but it should not be used long term due to the risk for rebound congestion of the nose. Other prescription medications may relieve chronic congestion related to allergies, including topical nasal steroids sprays such as Flonase, Nasonex, Patanase, and Astelin. It may also be helpful to rinse the nasal sinuses during a cold with a neti pot.

If the problem is due to a cough, cough suppressants like cough syrup or throat lozenges may be an effective adjunctive treatment.

Some people actually like to use CPAP during a cold, especially if there is not a lot of nasal discharge. The heated and humidified air may add comfort and relief. This pressurized air may also move mucus along the nasal passage and decrease congestion. If you can use it for a few minutes, you will notice that it becomes easier to breathe very quickly.

How to Clean CPAP After a Cold

During and after your cold, it is important to be diligent about cleaning the CPAP mask, tubing, and humidifier tank. Give everything a thorough rinse with soap and water. You don't have to worry about getting sick from your own germs; your body has already made a truce and fought these off, so the chance of reinfection is unlikely.

Although you may want to take a break from CPAP when you have a cold, you don’t have to. If you find that you can tolerate the treatment during illness, it will help you to sleep better and wake feeling more rested.

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