How to Overcome Nasal Congestion with Sleep Apnea

Anyone who has grappled with the ongoing effects of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is already aware that periods of nasal congestion can lead to even more frustration. 

Even though these two conditions are not necessarily related, when you suffer from both it can certainly make sleep more difficult.

What Causes Nasal Passages to Become Congested?

Sinus congestion is relatively common, and upsets sleep for many people.  

Also known as sinusitis, congestion results from an inflammation of the nasal passages. People will often experience symptoms near the lower forehead or beneath the eyes on either side of the nose. 

Under normal conditions, the nasal passages drain themselves approximately every ten minutes. The issue here is that the drainage can become compromised if the nasal passages become swollen – as occurs with a cold or the flu. 

In these cases, the nasal passages become inflamed and are not capable of properly draining mucous. 

As a result, you may experience congestion. Note that there are instances when this type of congestion may last for up to eight weeks. Seek medical attention if the congestion becomes severe or if your sleep is dramatically disrupted. 

Could One Condition Cause the Other?

It is important to clarify a specific point before moving on. Obstructive sleep apnea is not caused by nasal congestion -- nor is congestion the result of OSA. 

Having said this, each can undoubtedly impact the severity of the other. 

Numerous studies have found that nasal obstruction (such as inflammation) can have an adverse effect upon sleep apnea symptoms. This makes a great deal of sense when we remember the interconnected nature of the upper respiratory system. 

Also, there is little doubt that OSA can make it more difficult to deal with sinusitis during the night, as nose breathing is obstructed. 

Dealing Nasal Congestion and Sleep Apnea

What are some ways to alleviate the severity of your congestion? There are several methods to consider and we will look at each in slightly more detail. 

Choose a PAP with a Built-in Humidifier

Almost all PAP (positive airway pressure) devices are equipped with a humidifier. This can provide a substantial amount of relief. Warm and humid air have both been shown to counteract the effects of sinusitis and nasal resistance .

If you don’t have a built-in humidifier included, speak with your doctor or a SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialist. Your doctor can provide guidance on how this will help you.

What About Your CPAP Face Mask?

There can also be times when a CPAP mask might contribute to congestion. Partial face masks might not be able to deliver the level of humidity that your nasal passages require to remain unblocked during the night. 

A full face mask could potentially represent a better option. Once again, talk to your doctor or a SleepQuest Sleep Specialist about this.  

Sleeping Position

Are you in the habit of sleeping on your back? If so, this can worsen the symptoms associated with sinus congestion and sleep apnea. If you find it difficult to sleep in another position, there are solutions.

You can prop your bed up at a slight incline to elevate your head. You can also purchase a pillow made specifically for PAP users. A Contour pillow will keep your head at the proper level and angle to promote easy breathing.

This will make it less likely that your nasal passages become clogged. 

Consider Other Possible Causes

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why you might be experiencing nasal congestion. One common scenario involves allergies. Certain substances (such as dust, mold and pollen) can irritate the linings of your nasal passages and cause them to become inflamed. 

An extremely dry environment is likewise a culprit (and a humidifier will help). Certain medications might sometimes lead to nasal congestion as a side effect. 

Nasal Congestion and Sleep Apnea: Breaking the Cycle

If you find that you are congested on a regular basis, speak with a healthcare professional. He or she will be able to determine the exact cause(s) and will also provide viable treatment options. Thankfully, there are many solutions which can provide tangible results without forcing you to make dramatic lifestyle changes. 

Although congestion is still bound to occur from time to time, the main intention should be to limit its effects so that you can take full advantage of the benefits of your CPAP machine.