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Should I Use CPAP with a Cold?


Updated May 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Should I Use CPAP with a Cold?
Question: Should I Use CPAP with a Cold?
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is an effective treatment for sleep apnea, but if you catch a cold, you may wonder if you should take a break from using it. Should you use CPAP with a cold?

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. Each time you cough, opening the mouth may make the pressure uncomfortable. What should you do?

It is fine to take a break from using CPAP if you have a cold. 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.

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 with a neti pot.

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.

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.

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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