How to Use a CPAP Machine When You Have a Cold

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It's never easy to sleep when you have a cold, but for people on CPAP therapy, it can be a real problem. Most CPAP masks require you to breath through your nose, but if your sinuses are stuffy, it can be difficult or impossible to inhale. However, stopping CPAP therapy during a cold can be dangerous, and it can make other cold symptoms, such as a sore throat, a lot worse. Here are some steps to take to make sure you can continue using your CPAP machine when you've got a cold.

Things You'll Need

  • CPAP machine
  • Vaporizer
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Anti-inflammatory nasal spray
  • CPAP humidifier

Don't "ramp up" your CPAP pressure. Many CPAP machines are designed to start at low pressure and slowly build up as you fall asleep. When you have a cold, though, the low presssure can make you feel like you're suffocating. Try starting the CPAP machine at full pressure; this often clears congestion almost instantly.

Use a saline nasal spray. Just adding moisture to the sinus passages can relieve swelling and help you breath easier.

Set up a vaporizer, and point it toward the air intake of your CPAP machine. This can also help deliver warm moisture to the sinuses.

Use a prescription anti-inflammatory decongestant spray, such as Flonase. The doctor who prescribed your CPAP will usually also prescribe a spray decongestant to help with nasal congestion from a cold or allergies.

Get a heated humidifier for your CPAP machine. This is the most direct way to get heated moisture into the air passages.

Tips & Warnings

  • Heat your bottle of saline spray in the microwave for just a few seconds to get the benefit of warm mist. Test a squirt on your wrist first to make sure it's not too hot.
  • Prescription decongestants can take awhile to work; make sure you use yours soon enough so that it takes effect by bed time.
  • Heated CPAP humidifiers are expensive, but insurance often covers them. Many of the newer CPAP machines have built-in humidifiers.
  • If you experience ear pressure or pain, stop using your CPAP during your cold. The unrelieved pressure from the CPAP can make this symptom worse.
  • Also, discontinue the use of CPAP during a cold if you find you develop ear infections after doing so. Air pressure can force mucus back into the ear canal, causing an infection.

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