Can you use a CPAP machine with a cold or blocked nose?

While CPAP is the gold standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, you might find it uncomfortable using a CPAP machine when you have a cold -- or nasal congestion as a result of allergies. 

A blocked nose makes it harder to breathe properly -- and if you have a sore throat or cough, the inflow of air will likely provoke coughing spells. 

The CPAP machine cannot work effectively if you have a blocked nose. Also, it’s unhygienic as mucus may contaminate the mask resulting in bugs multiplying and potentially causing a secondary infection. 

While you don’t want to stop CPAP therapy on a regular basis, you can stop for a few days until your cold or stuffy nose has cleared up. Specialists don’t believe there are any major side effects from stopping CPAP for this reason.

Don’t Be Too Quick to Stop CPAP 

If nasal congestion is very mild, CPAP therapy may actually provide relief as it moves mucus along the nasal passage – decreasing your congestion.

Medications can further help alleviate congestion so you can continue CPAP therapy. This includes nasal decongestants or saline sprays which help to moisten the inside of the nostrils.

Nasal irrigation with a Neti pot also helps.

How CPAP Helps Mild Congestion

Humidifier: A CPAP machine’s heated humidifier -- plus heated tubing – can ease congestion as the humidity and heat reduces inflammation and irritation inside the airways. 

Heat humidification is particularly recommended if you’re over 65 years old, live in a dry climate – or if your medications cause dry airways. 

Heated CPAP tubing ensures the air keeps warm until it is delivered to your airways. 

Mask: Switching to a full-face mask, if you’re not already using one, allows breathing via either the nose or the mouth. 

More tips: Raising your head with more pillows than usual and sleeping on your side can also help relieve congestion. 

Should You Take a Break From CPAP?

It is a good idea to take a break from your CPAP therapy if you have a more serious respiratory infection such as bronchitis, earache, nosebleeds or vomiting. However, contrary to popular belief, a CPAP machine won’t make ear infections worse.

Cleaning Your CPAP Machine

It’s advisable to clean your CPAP machine more thoroughly while you have a cold -- and as soon as your cold has cleared up. 

Clean the equipment with hot soapy water, soaking the mask, tubing and humidifier for around half an hour. Air dry before reassembling -- and remember to change the filter. Those with compromised immune systems should consider using a CPAP sanitizer.

Could Your CPAP Cause Nasal Congestion?

If you were a mouth breather due to your sleep apnea, you will likely switch to becoming a nose breather when you start CPAP therapy.

This can trigger nasal congestion several months after starting CPAP treatment. 

If you have allergies, it’s advisable to wash the non-disposable filter at least once a week. Allow to dry completely before putting it back in the CPAP machine, or consider using a hypoallergenic filter.