Sneezing, a runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes – as the temperature changes, these are just a few of the symptoms you might experience if you suffer from allergies. As a CPAP user, seasonal allergies can be more than just an annoyance. They can actually make your sleep apnea worse, unless you use your CPAP for allergy relief.
Your CPAP And Allergies
Each year as the seasons change, over 50 million allergy sufferers are plagued by airborne pollen from trees, mold, dust spores, and pet dander. Allergies develop when the immune system becomes sensitive to particles in the environment and overreacts after coming into contact with them while others may remain unaffected.
Seasonal Allergy Causes
A variety of factors can trigger seasonal fall and spring allergies including:
Pollen – Even though temperatures are dropping and plants are going dormant, fall pollen such as ragweed causes watery eyes, sneezing, and more. It can also travel hundreds of miles in the wind, affecting people who don’t even live near plants that release it. Then in the spring weeds, flowers, trees, and grass produce more pollen.
Mold – As wet leaves and grasses collect in the fall moisture they begin to grow mold spores that can get stirred up in the wind or from contact. The pile of leaves near your driveway is the perfect breeding ground. In the spring, wet humid areas create the perfect environment for mold and mildew as well.
Dust Mites – When it’s colder we spend more time in doors, tracking in dirt and debris. We also turn the heat on, spreading dust from vents. These irritants get spread in the air around your home and settle on your furniture, in the kitchen, bedroom, and more. When it’s warmer and the windows are open, it’s easier for pollen to enter your home or to get tacked in.
Pet Dander – All year pets are shedding or tracking in irritants. Their dander, pollen, dust, and more that attaches their fur can easily be spread around your home.
Typical Allergy Symptoms
While all of the allergy symptoms are uncomfortable, the main symptom that causes irritation is nasal congestion. As you inhale your nose humidifies the air being pulled in to prevent congestion, itching, and irritation. Without this humidification, nasal congestion and throat irritation can grow progressively worse.
Nasal Congestion from Season Allergies
As allergies block your nostrils with congestion, you begin to breathe through your mouth to compensate and the humidity level of inhaled air decreases, leading complications such as poor sleep, increased histamine levels, and inflammation. One study found that sleep apnea symptoms are greatly increased in patients with allergic rhinitis.
Allergies affect your sleep by:
- Causing general discomfort that may keep you awake.
- Blocking your nasal passages from pulling in air.
- Mucus and drainage may obstruct your throat and airway passages once you lay down during the night.
However, you can use your CPAP for allergy relief.
Allergies can certainly make sleep apnea worse. By causing swelling and excess secretions to develop in the nasal passages and upper airways, allergies contribute to the obstruction or blockage that people with sleep apnea already have. The inflammation from the pollen or other allergens make it more difficult to breathe through the nose and increase the risk of or worsen snoring.
When people cannot breathe through their noses, they have to mouth breathe, which is noisier and disruptive to their bed partners, especially when snoring. People with sleep apnea may already have enlarged nasal turbinates, which when enlarged can be seen when you look in someone’s nose. Allergies can worsen this, and coupled with the runny noses they often cause, make a bad situation worse.
CPAP can certainly help, and people who already use one should continue to use theirs. They need to be sure to clean their units frequently, because with the extra secretions they may have it is important to decrease the risk for abacterial infection that may require antibiotics. An over-the-counter steroid nasal spray may help decrease swelling during allergy season as well. Be sure to use them properly by aiming towards the eye of the same nostril you are spraying into to decrease the risk for nosebleeds. -- Dr. Monique May
CPAP With Humidifier
You can use a CPAP machine with a heated humidifier to reduce allergy symptoms and to break up congestion. As air passes through your CPAP moisture and warmth are added to reduce dryness and relieve inflammation.
When air is cold the blood vessels in your nose dilate to warm it up, but this causes the nasal passages to become narrow and can increase mucus, blocking the airways. CPAP humidifiers prevent this issue by introducing air that has already been warmed.
Switch To a Full Face CPAP Mask
If you have congestion your CPAP nasal mask might not be able to pull in air through your nose, causing you to become a mouth breather as a result. If you find yourself breathing through your mouth then you aren’t receiving enough air through your CPAP.
Clean Your CPAP
As your CPAP operates it draws air from the surrounding area and can collect pollen, pathogens, dust, and more. That’s why it’s necessary to regularly clean your CPAP supplies to keep it free of bacteria and other irritants.
Replace Your CPAP Supplies
With repeated use, CPAP supplies such as masks, tubing, filters, and more break down due to moisture and abrasion. As a result, the items might crack, bacteria can get in scratches, and air might leak.
Replacing your CPAP equipment according to their regular schedule is important for proper therapy and for your health. You may qualify to receive replacement CPAP supplies through insurance and you can subscribe to receive items on a regular basis.
What If I’m Allergic To My CPAP Mask?
Some patients may have an allergic reaction to one of the materials in their CPAP mask, but that doesn't mean it's time to give up on treatment.
If you are allergic to your CPAP mask:
- Stop wearing it immediately and contact your CPAP provider (DME).
- Consider switching to a newer CPAP mask. Older masks are often made with latex while new ones are made with silicone.
- Using a CPAP mask liner or gel can also prevent irritation.
Bonus Allergy Prevention Tips
- Wash your bedsheets once a week to remove allergens.
- Keep your bedroom windows closed so pollen and other particles can’t be blown in.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
- Avoid disturbing piles of wet leaves or grass that could spread mold spores.
- Take a shower after being outside to wash irritants away.
- Clean all year to prevent dust and other irritants from collecting around your home.
- Rinse your sinuses.
- Stay indoors during dry, windy days.
- In the spring, avoid being outdoors during cool morning temperatures when seasonal pollen counts are at their highest.
- In the fall, avoid being outdoors on evenings during warm days when seasonal pollen counts are at their highest.
- Change your air filters on a regular basis.