Cold and flu season can be especially troublesome for people with sleep apnea. If you're congested, it might impact how your CPAP works. Here are some tips to help navigate cold and flu season successfully if you have sleep apnea.
Consider a Flu Vaccine
Cold and flu season is tough enough, but it can be even more complicated if you have sleep apnea. In fact, people with untreated sleep apnea or who are not keeping up with their CPAP therapy have a higher percentage chance of being hospitalized for the flu than those patients who are compliant with their CPAP therapy.
That's why you might want to consider a flu vaccine. In the U.S. the most common seasonal vaccine, called the quadrivalent, protects against four flu viruses that are expected to be most prevalent. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop from a shot. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should get a flu vaccine.
See a Doctor Right Away if You're Sick
If you're sick, see a doctor right away for a flu test to determine if you need flu antivirals. Antivirals work best when administered within two days of getting symptoms. They can lessen the duration and symptoms of the flu, and may reduce the risk of complications.
Talk to Your Doctor About Continuing Your Therapy
If you get sick with the cold or flu, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should continue your CPAP therapy while you're sick. Some people with severe congestion take a brief break, while others use modifications to help continue their therapy. Only your doctor can tell you which decision is best for your situation.
For some, CPAP therapy may be uncomfortable if they're congested. Ask your doctor if it might be a good idea to switch from a nasal mask to a full face mask if your nose is stuffy. This can decrease the pressure in your nostrils, which might help you tolerate the therapy better.
Your doctor might also recommend increasing your CPAP's humidification or heat. This could make the CPAP more comfortable by helping keep your nasal passages warm and moist.
You need all the restful sleep you can get when you're sick. In fact, one study showed that poor sleep quality can lower your resistance to the common cold. And untreated sleep apnea can put you at greater risk of being hospitalized for the flu. So for these reasons, you'll want to check with your doctor rather than simply discontinuing your therapy if you're sick.
Sleep Elevated or on Your Side
Sleeping with your head elevated or on your side might help you tolerate your CPAP therapy better while you're sick. If you need to sleep elevated, consider getting a wide wedge pillow to put under your regular pillow. Sleeping on your side allows gravity to help open your airway, which can help your CPAP machine not have to work as hard.
Practice Good Hygiene
It's important to practice good hygiene during cold and flu season. Your goal is to avoid getting sick, if possible. This means you might want to frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you can't. Try not to touch your face or eyes. If someone around you is showing symptoms, try to keep your distance.
Clean Your Equipment Regularly
Although it may be tempting to lighten up on cleaning your equipment, it's vital to keep your cleaning regimen going during cold and flu season. This is especially important if you're sick. Clean your mask and other accessories daily.
Get Extra Rest and Go Easy on Yourself
Don't push yourself. When you're sick, you need all the rest you can get. Remember that the virus itself will make you feel more tired. So if you're using your CPAP and you're feeling extra fatigued, it doesn't necessarily mean your CPAP isn't working. But if you're concerned at all, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor.
Cold and flu season can be tough to navigate for anyone, but it may be even tougher if you have sleep apnea. Get lots of rest and talk to your doctor about the best approach to your therapy. And of course, be kind to yourself. Your body needs to recover, so give yourself all the time you need.