Living With OSA

What Is the Connection Between Sinusitis and Sleep Apnea?

Sinusitis and sleep apneaSleep apnea and sinusitis are both health conditions that reduce your quality of sleep by disrupting your breathing. While Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) blocks the throat, a sinus inflammation blocks the nasal passages. The result of either condition is an inability to get a good night’s sleep because you were unable to breathe. When you are experiencing those disruptions, your brain is telling your body to go to sleep. When this happens on a regular basis, it leads to chronic sleep loss and fatigue.

Chronic sleep loss also leads to a whole host of other health problems from high blood pressure to diabetes. If you think you are suffering from sleep apnea, sinusitis, or both, the best way to combat this and regain your ability to sleep well is by learning more about the two, how they are related, how they are not related, and finding a doctor to help you sleep better.

What Is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is caused by swelling and inflammation in the nasal cavities. The nasal cavities, also known as sinuses, are located in two areas of the face: the forehead just above the area between the eyebrows and under the eyes in each cheek.

The sinus cavity is surrounded by bone, lined with fine hairs called cilia that work like brooms, and are filled air. Sinuses also produce mucus, which is used as a protectant for the nasal cavities. Each time you inhale through your nose, this mucus and cilia work together to trap dust, dirt, pollutants, bacteria, and other particles to stop them from entering your body, especially your lungs.

Normally, the sinuses drain every 10 minutes to maintain a clear passage. When you get a cold or suffer from allergies, the nasal passages typically swell up, which blocks the flow of the sinuses. However, when you are sick, your nasal passages are unable to clean themselves naturally and causes a build-up of mucus that contains bacteria.

If this bacteria continues to build up in the nasal passages, it leads to inflammation. This inflammation of your nasal passages is better known as sinusitis. If left untreated, this condition becomes chronic, can last up to eight weeks, and is likely to interrupt your sleep. You may also have facial pain and a runny nose along with headaches.

You can decrease your risk of sinusitis by reducing your exposure to conditions known to cause it:

  • Swimming in Polluted Waters. Polluted waters can include oceans, lakes, and rivers. This doesn’t mean you can’t go to the beach, but if your main source of cardiovascular exercise is swimming and you suffer from sinusitis frequently, you may want to consider how often to swim in untreated waters. 
  • Smoking. Smoking in itself has several known side effects, but one of those can be sinusitis. This is also true for those exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Frequent Contact With Children. Individuals who are regularly in contact with school-aged children are more likely to be exposed to bacteria and colds, leading to sinus conditions.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that results in interrupted sleep, caused by breathing problems.

When you are diagnosed with one of the three types of sleep apnea, it means that your upper airway is blocked when you are asleep. The blockage can be slight or complete and can leave you gasping for air. When this happens, your brain should receive the message to breathe, but instead, you stop breathing while sleeping.

Most of the time, you wake up after not breathing for a certain period of time and regain your breathing pattern. However, this disrupts your sleep and prevents it from reaching the critical deep sleep stage. The result is you’ll feel tired and irritable during the day because you never reached that crucial deep state of sleep.

In the short-term, it may feel like this chronic lack of sleep is manageable if you are in a stressful period in your personal or professional life (i.e.: moving or having a big project at work), but in the long run, that daytime fogginess and fatigue that makes you more irritable can lead to a whole host of more serious health problems. If untreated, chronic lack of sleep and accompanying stress may lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. 

Is There a Connection Between Sinusitis and Sleep Apnea?

Medical research has shown that just because you are diagnosed with sleep apnea does not mean you will automatically develop sinusitis and vice versa. There is a slight increase that an individual with sleep apnea will also develop sinusitis, but the research is fuzzy on a clear link between the two.

A 2016 study is one of the most often cited scholarly articles on the topic, but it doesn’t offer conclusive answers. Researchers followed 971 people with OSA, as well as 4,855 people not diagnosed with OSA, for five years. The researchers reported fewer than seven percent of people with OSA were later diagnosed with sinusitis. Among those without OSA, only two percent developed sinusitis, therefore there is no conclusive evidence linking the two.

A year later, doctors from Northwestern University and Rush University Medical Center studied general sleep disruptions in individuals with chronic rhinosinusitis. They noticed in preparation for their research that the medical community had not yet found any consistent links between the two.

The only known link between the two is that they can both disrupt your ability to get a good night’s rest by preventing you from breathing well. It’s frustrating to hear that the answer to something impacting your health is either maybe or it depends, but that is unfortunately the case here. Aside from routine maintenance of your CPAP machine, which we’ll cover later in this post, lifestyle changes such as losing weight and quitting smoking may also help.

Does Nasal Congestion and Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?

When you have nasal congestion, you are unable to breathe properly at any time throughout the day. However, at night, you will likely notice that it is more difficult to fall asleep because of stuffed or runny sinuses. This blockage prevents you from staying asleep—just as with sleep apnea. One of your first lines of defense against nasal congestion is a NetiPot, which helps clear your nasal passages. After talking to your doctor, if a few rounds with a NetiPot does not work, then you should seek medical care as it may be sinusitis. 

But are sleep apnea and sinus infections related, and can you avoid sleep apnea by treating sinusitis?

OSA is a sleep disorder while sinusitis is a temporary infection. Once you have successfully treated sinus problems, you will not suffer from breathing problems at night that were caused by a sinus infection. This means that sinusitis will eventually clear itself or may be treated with antibiotics. Whereas OSA is a disorder that is manageable and relatively benign but for which there is not a medication-based cure.

Note that there are two types of nasal congestions that can increase your risk factor for OSA:

  • Anatomical Problems. If you have nasal congestion due to an anatomical problem, this can cause a chronic loss of sleep. In this case, find a doctor that can help you with your OSA, but keep in mind that surgery is often a last-resort solution.
  • Chronic Allergies. If you have chronic allergies that consistently prevent you from having clear nasal passages, then you may develop OSA but they are not mutually exclusive. If you live in an area that is prone to seasonal colds and allergies, then you may also want to keep in mind how to use CPAP when you have a cold or symptoms associated with it that may disrupt your sleep.

To be diagnosed with OSA, you will need to get a sleep study through a medical provider at home or in a sleep study clinic. Based on your sleep test results, your doctor may recommend a CPAP machine for treating your sleep apnea.

Can Your CPAP Machine Make You Sick?

It’s unlikely that you’ll get sick from your CPAP alone, but if you think you’re getting sick from using your CPAP, it’s possible it needs a thorough cleaning. Using a CPAP machine in itself shouldn’t make you sick, but using a dirty CPAP machine definitely can. Some risks associated with using a dirty CPAP or one that hasn’t been used or cleaned in a while includes:

  • Skin Rashes or Infections. Your CPAP mask rests on your face and is in contact with the germs and bacteria on the skin. Over time, bacteria and oils on a dirty mask may give you a rash or infection on your face.
  • Respiratory Problems. If you don’t replace the humidifier water frequently or don’t wash it often enough, it’s possible for mold to develop and for you to breathe in that mold, which comes with a series of problematic respiratory problems. 

Like any medical device, your CPAP machine requires routine maintenance.

Cleaning the inside of the hose, your mask, and changing your air filter are all part of cleaning your CPAP machine. Performing this routine maintenance is easy and can save you from unnecessary visits to the doctor. If you are not sure how to clean your CPAP, you can consult your specific CPAP machine’s owner’s manual.

Most routine maintenance of CPAP machines is pretty easy and involves only but a little scrubbing, hot water, and vinegar, but there are also machines designed to clean your CPAP accessories


The bottom line is that sinus-related issues combined with your sleep apnea could be getting in the way of your productive sleep. We want you to be able to get the rest you deserve in order to be well-rested, motivated, and free from daytime fatigue. When in doubt, don’t forget to clean your CPAP equipment as recommended, and if you still think you are having sinus troubles while using your CPAP equipment, consult your doctor.

34 Comments

  1. albert kapustar Reply

    I would like to know more on how to treat sinititus as i have a chronic blocked nose especially when i sleeep but in winter imy nose is blocked full time

  2. Quick Pamela Reply

    Thank you, for the extra information! I’ve been using a CPAP machine for just over a year! When I got use to the mask, I started sleeping much better! Sleep apnea was my problem. Now I have more energy during the da and no more daytime naps needed!

    • Hey Pamela, Congratulations on getting some better sleep! I am glad to hear that you found the article helpful. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance. We can be reached at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Enjoy your day!

  3. Laura desouza Reply

    If one have a breathing pattern, like a pause in between breathing is that considered sleep apnea.
    Thank you

    • Hi Laura, pausing in between breathing could be an indication of Sleep Apnea. If you suspect that there may be pause breathing patterns during your sleep it is recommended that you contact your doctor so that you may receive a sleep study for a proper diagnosis.

      If you have any further questions, or concerns please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Enjoy your day!

  4. Steve OBrien Reply

    The question I am interested in is not what is the connection between sinusitis and sleep apnea but what is the connection between sinusitis and CPAP/APAP machine use.

    I love the information you provide. Thanks.

    • Hey Steve, I am glad that you enjoyed the information from the the article. It has been found over time that those who are treating obstructive sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) are more prone to sinus infections than those who do not suffer from OSA in any degree.

      I would encourage you to speak with your doctor to determine if there is any direct correlation between CPAP use and Sinusitis. In the meantime, to decrease the possibility of developing Sinusitis from CPAP use, please make sure you are disinfecting your equipment to avoid the development of bacteria.

      Also, please make sure you are changing your filters in your machine on a regular basis so that you are not breathing germs and pollutants. Some folks find using a humidifier, which adds moisture to their therapy helpful as well.

      Please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221 for further questions, or concerns.

      Enjoy your day!

    • Hey Brian, OBS is referred to as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This type of Apnea disorder occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and blocks your airway during sleep.

      Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance. We can be reached at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Have a great day!

  5. Martha Amalia Padilla Reply

    Fuí diagnosticada con apnea obstructiva del sueño y desde hace 4 años uso CPAP. Mi vida mejoró notablemente: la presión arterial se normalizó y duermo muy bien.

  6. Using a chinstrap or taping your mouth shut to promote nasal breathing while asleep will often prevent nasal occlusion in the long run.

    Using a Neti pot and bathing or showering before bed can help as well.

  7. I’ve been on cpap since June 2018, and suffered continuously from severe sinus infections, constant runny nose and violent and continuous sneezing, (treated with antibiotics, and finally, Augmentin/clav 800 mg twice), until January 2019. I spent $600.00 out of pocket for extra masks, plus the masks that my insurance provided, trying to alleviate the horrific suffering…never could get to sleep before 4am! ? I found that the nasal masks (which I absolutely prefer because of the comfort), all made me sick, and all of them were made of the cloudy silicone! The Amara View (which has the clear silicone), was the first mask that didn’t make me sick, (although it leaks too frequently!) However, I’m still on it…THIS IS A HORRIBLE WAY TO LIVE! The Air Touch and one other that I have tried seem okay as well, and both have the CLEAR silicone.
    My Request is that the companies are informed that the cloudy appearing silicone DOES cause major sinus allergies. (I have read the responses of MANY patients online)…. AND THE COMPANIES NEED TO (ADDITIONALLY) MAKE NASAL AND ALL OTHER MASKS WITH THE CLEAR SILICONE…TO PREVENT THE SUFFERING AND PROVIDE BETTER AND LESS CUMBERSOME/PROBLEMATIC CHOICES.

  8. Lawana Cr6 Reply

    Can I give my partner a sinus infection if I have one and the air from the cpap blows in their face while they are ssleep?

    • Hi Lawana, my apologies, but we aren’t medically trained to accurately assure you either way. I would strongly recommend that you speak with your doctor to confirm.

      We wish you the best!

  9. I have been waking up with big headaches and often get sleepy during the day im currently 19 years old. Is it possible i have sleep apenea. I have sinus probles so i think this is whats causing this.

    • Hey Serafin, i’m very sorry to hear about the headaches and sleepiness that you are experiencing. There is a possibility that you may have Sleep Apnea, but keep in mind that headaches and sleepiness does not necessarily mean you have Sleep Apnea.

      My suggestion would be for you to contact your doctor regarding your symptoms so that a medical determination can be made on if you should have a Sleep Study.

      Please reach us at: 1-800-356-5221 for further questions, or concerns.

      We wish you the best!

  10. Shirley Hoggarth Reply

    I have developed severe rhinitis due to CPAP use. I have done everything the Dr has told me to do. Nasal washes BID, set humidifier from 0 to 4, different masks, Ayr nasal moisturizer at bedtime, taking Claritin, ramping the pressure, variation in hrs of use and each time I dicontinue CPAP use the constant dripping nose, excessive sneezing, itcy watery eyes clears up after a couple of days. When I again try the CPap all symptoms return..Dont want to live like this but I have Afib and told I need the therapy. Which is more detrimental to my health constant Rhinitis or no CPAP

  11. I have recently read your article regarding sinus and sleep Apnea following my recent diagnosis of OSA. However I have had sinus problems for years and awaiting surgery for septum obstructing airways which obviously causes problems breathing at night, if I get my operation would this help my symptoms and reduce having to use CPAP. Furthermore like others after two nights of using machine my PND has worsened, I’m now also suffering constant coughing and expelling of mucus all day!

    • Hey Lorraine, my apologies for the delayed response. I am unable to say if the surgery will decrease your need for your CPAP therapy, as this would be a question you should direct to your doctor.

      We wish you the best!

  12. I’m wondering if a CPAP can cause or worsen sinusitis. I’ve had a head cold for a few days. I wasn’t sure how it would work to use a CPAP, but it seems to blast it’s way through the congestion and work normally. However, I woke up this morning with pain in my cheek, and was wondering if the CPAP was forcing mucus higher up into my sinuses. Should I discontinue the CPAP until this clears up?

    • Hey Allen, I’m sorry for the delayed response. I hope you’re feeling better! You should never discontinue your CPAP therapy, unless you’ve been instructed to do so by your doctor.

      Are you using a Heated Humidifier with your therapy? If not, you may benefit from adding one start with a medium setting, adjusting as needed to meet your comfort.

      If you would like to speak with me further, please feel free to give us a call at: 1-800-356-5221, you can ask for Carol. You may e-mail further questions, or concerns to: cpap@cpap.com.

      Best Wishes!

  13. I have chronic sinusitis and recently experiencing sleep apnea. Should i consult an ENT specialist or a dentist for the treatment

    • Hi Vaibhavi, I would recommend you speaking with your otolaryngologist, or Pulmonary specialist, who may make a decision to order a sleep study, to determine if you have Sleep Apnea.

      For further questions, or concerns, please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com.

      Have a great day!

  14. Just blew out my Rt Knee this week and found trying to use the CPAP for sleep, while restricted to a certain posture in bed (Due to the knee), is very taxing. On top of this, I have been suffering from continual Sinusitis (Head feeling like a balloon) for the past months. I have been having this sinus problem part of last year and realize it is due to the CPAP machine after reading this column (Using CPAP since July 2018). It must be the Silicone on the face mask as spoken above as I clean my machine and recently began using an Air (Ozone) cleaner on the whole unit. No help. I use the CPAP mainly to PREVENT Afib attacks!! I considered going to an allergist but know it is a waste of time. I have never had sinus problems in the dead of winter so there is no reason to suspect anything other than what is stated above. The skin on the side of my nose is red and flaking off–irritated from silicone contact.

    • Hey John, my apologies for the delayed response. We wish you a speedy recovery with your knee. Are you currently using a Humidifier with your CPAP therapy? If not, adding one will add moisture to your therapy and may provide you with some relief.

      Also, since your skin is sensitive to silicon, you may try using a mask liner to protect your skin from direct contact with your mask.

      If you need assistance with locating a mask liner, or anything else, please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Have a great day!

  15. sandy crutcher Reply

    Hello I’ve been given cpap , for sleep apnea. I don’t get on with this at all . I have sinus problems chronic rhinitis??
    I started swimming and exercising regularly and found improvement … do I have to use cpap !

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