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Using Your CPAP With a Cold? Tips & Advice From Doctor

Table of Contents

Updated: January 28, 2019
Article reviewed by Dr. Daniel Barone:

💡 Key Takeaways

  • Continue CPAP Therapy: Even if you have a cold, it’s beneficial to continue your CPAP therapy. Stopping can make you feel more tired and less equipped to fight off the cold.
  • Sleep Position Matters: Sleeping on your side can help alleviate congestion and make it easier to use your CPAP machine. Elevating your head with extra pillows can also help with drainage.
  • Utilize Heated Humidifiers: A heated humidifier can restore moisture to your nasal passages, making it more comfortable to breathe while using your CPAP machine.
  • Consult a Sleep Specialist for APAP: An Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) machine adjusts air pressure automatically, which can be particularly useful when you’re sick. However, consult your sleep specialist before making this switch.
  • Switch to a Full Face Mask: If nasal congestion is severe, consider using a full face CPAP mask that allows you to breathe through your mouth.

Chances are, despite all of your best hygienic efforts, you will get sick at some point. This article is a resource for anyone who uses a CPAP machine and struggles with a cold at the same time. Getting a good night’s sleep can become a daunting task when dealing with a head cold and is only amplified for those suffering from sleep apnea.

Combine those two things with trying to use your CPAP machine, and you may be tempted to double up your dosage of nightly cold medicine.

Woman Sleeping in Her Bed with Cold & Flu Remedies on Night Stand

Should You Stop Using Your CPAP Machine if You Have a Cold?

If you have a cold, it’s a good idea to try to continue your CPAP therapy, if you can. Having a cold will make you tired, and if you’re also feeling tired from not treating your sleep apnea, you’re not going to have much energy. If you continue CPAP therapy, you may be able to keep your sleep apnea symptoms in check, giving you more energy to fight the cold.

In the next section, we’ll be discussing other strategies that can help you continue CPAP therapy with a cold.

How to Use CPAP With a Cold

If you’re trying to stick it out and use your CPAP with a cold, there are a couple of things you can do it make it easier on you. Here are some tips that may help:

Tip 1: Sleep on your side or elevate your head. Try changing your sleeping position. Sleeping on your back can often make congestion worse. Try sleeping on your side—there are even specific pillows available for side sleepers who wear CPAP face masks.

If you find that you are strictly a back sleeper, use extra pillows to elevate your head to allow the mucus to drain, rather than stuff you up.

Sleeping on your side uses gravity to help open the airway naturally using gravity. This means your CPAP machine may not have to work as hard to open your airway and can mean a lower AHI. If you are trying to use your CPAP with a cold, sleeping on your side may help.

Tip 2: Use a heated humidifier. Heated humidifiers work by restoring moisture levels to mucous membranes and nasal passages, alleviating the extreme discomfort that goes along with a congested upper respiratory system.

Tip 3: Use a decongestant and nasal spray. This probably seems obvious, but there are plenty of over-the-counter nasal sprays that clear congestion caused by the common cold or flu. Another way to use your CPAP with a cold is to use a saline nasal rinse to clear your nasal passages prior to using your CPAP machine.

Just remember: if you choose to use an over-the-counter nasal spray, consult your physician first, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure. Certain medications, when combined with others, can have negative health effects.

Tip 4: Try an APAP Machine. The traditional CPAP machine provides a singular flow of therapeutic pressure through the respiratory system, whereas an APAP machine, known as Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP), uses unique algorithms to provide continuous pressure at levels that are automatically regulated.

When using an APAP machine, the machine itself will adjust air pressure accordingly so all you have to do is sleep. When you are sick, the need for more or less pressure depends on how well you’re breathing, making an APAP machine your most suitable option.

While switching to an APAP machine may help your cold, be sure to talk to your sleep specialist, especially if the APAP is brand new. Dr. Barone cautions CPAPers before taking this step, as APAP settings sometimes require a different machine than the one you may have on hand, and can take a sleep specialist to determine the correct pressure ranges.

Tip 5: If using a nasal mask, substitute it out for a full face CPAP mask. Congestion can leave your nose out of commission, so using a full face CPAP mask is a great option, as it allows you to breathe through your mouth while you sleep. While the air pressure blowing through the nasal mask may open your nasal passages up enough, a full face CPAP mask may be your ideal solution.

Dr. Barone has a word of caution here too. Switching from a nasal mask to a full face mask may require a higher pressure than what a person may be used to. If you’re thinking of doing this, it would be ideal to reach out to a sleep specialist.

Regular Cleaning Can Help Keep You from Getting Sick

Cleaning your CPAP equipment regularly can help stave off future infections. When you’re sick, germs populate in and around your mask, and as you start to get better, there’s a chance you can get reinfected. That’s why it’s important to follow a more rigorous cleaning schedule when you’re sick.

Ideally, you should clean your mask once daily when you’re sick. This is especially true if you have a nasal pillow mask, as the nasal pillow mask style makes a lot of contact with the nostrils. Regular cleaning can also stave off future infections by giving germs less chance to turn into something you’re not going to be immune to. It will help keep you healthier longer and make it easier to recover if you do get sick.

CPAP is a great treatment for sleep apnea, and ideally should be used nightly, especially when the apnea is severe. However, if you’re are compliant with CPAP nightly, then taking a night off particularly in the setting of a cold should be ok. Some may find that trying to use CPAP when severely congested can actually make their sleep worse on that night. — Dr. Daniel Barone

Having a cold during the winter months is never fun, and adding CPAP therapy into the mix complicates things. With these tips, you can get a better night’s sleep and feel better in no time! We hope you’ve found this article helpful as you try to adjust to CPAP with a cold. Find more solutions to common CPAP problems here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using CPAP While Sick

Can You Use a CPAP Machine With a Stuffy Nose?

You should continue to use your CPAP machine with a stuffy nose. If congestion is severe, try using heated humidification or a nasal decongestant. Sleeping on your side may also bring some relief.

Should You Use Your CPAP if You Have an Upper Respiratory Infection?

While it can be difficult and uncomfortable, maintaining CPAP therapy with an upper respiratory infection gives your body the energy it needs to fight off the infection.

Should I Wear My CPAP if I Have a Cough?

Continuing CPAP therapy can be difficult with a cough, but unless your cough simply won’t be suppressed by CPAP, you should always try to sleep with your CPAP machine. The continuous pressure has actually been shown to reduce the coughing reflex response and humidification can help soothe the airway, too.

Can CPAP Make a Cold Worse?

When you have a cold, keeping up with your CPAP therapy is difficult, but worth it. It can make things worse for you if you’re already dried out, but by using heated humidification, you should be able to find more relief than discomfort.

Can I Put Vicks Vaporub in My CPAP Machine?

Under no circumstances should you put anything other than distilled water in your humidifier chamber, as anything else will leave deposits and potentially damage your machine or harm your health. A very small amount of Vick’s may be applied to the upper lip, but keep in mind the constant stream of air is going to make it a more intense experience.

About Dr. Barone

Dr. Daniel Barone received his medical degree from New York Medical College in 2006 after graduating summa cum laude from Fordham University in 2001. He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in 2007 and a residency in Neurology at Beth Israel Medical Center in 2010.

He then went on to complete a fellowship in Sleep Disorders at Stony Brook University Medical Center in 2011.

Dr. Barone is currently the Associate Medical Director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine and an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College and an Attending Neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He specializes in the evaluation and management of patients with all forms of sleep disorders including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and narcolepsy. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Both Neurology and Sleep Medicine.

He is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Barone is the first author of multiple peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in sleep medicine and has appeared in several media pieces. His first book, “Let’s Talk About Sleep,” was published in January, 2018, by Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Daniela Brannon

    Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.

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Table of Contents

22 Responses

    1. Hey Stan, an Auto Adjusting CPAP or “APAP” blows your ideal pressure on a breath-by-breath basis. BPAP machines blows two separate pressures, one for inhalation and one for exhalation.

      Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist you with.

  1. Great advice! I have used all the techniques you described and with success. Keep giving us Sleep Apnea suffers advice when there is new information!!

  2. I found this article very helpful as it relates to having a cold while using a CPAP device \. I have a So-Clean device and my question is will the So-Clean device kill cold germs? I’ve been concerned with my So-Clean that it does not give confirmation to what degree my CPAP mask and associated hose has been cleaned the only confirmation you get is the color of the light (green indicating the mask and its components are clean

    1. Hi Robert,

      My apologies, but we do not sell any of the SO-Clean products, therefore my knowledge of the extent of cleanliness that the machine has on colds is not enough to accurately answer your question. The information that I have about the So-Clean is most likely equivalent to what you already know which is that using the SoClean is good for cleaning and sanitizing that kills 99.9% of CPAP germs and bacteria in your mask, hose, and reservoir.

      Please see the link below to find the contact information for SoClean.com for additional questions, or concerns on their products.


      Enjoy your day!

  3. can using a CPAP/APAP machine cause bronchial irritation and deep coughing? Since I started using my machine 3 months ago I have noticed that I have had a deeper cough and irritated lungs. I am using the humidifier at level 6 and sometimes cutting it down to 4-5. The only other problem I have encountered is I must be swallowing or inhaling a lot of air, I have been waking up feeling bloated and like I have swallowed a balloon. I have started taking anti gas pills and raising my head up with pillows; I tend to suffer sometimes with acid reflux. Thank you. for your help

    1. Hello Jill,

      I am not certain if your bronchial irritation and deep coughing is a direct result of your CPAP use. I would encourage you to speak with your doctor regarding the symptoms that you are experiencing.

      Bloating is a sign you are swallowing the CPAP air. There is no real medical solution, but we have found that your sleeping position may be a factor. First, try sleeping as flat as possible, even without a pillow. If the bloating persists, try sleeping on your side or elevated. The position must be different from your current posture.

      If changing your position doesn’t resolve the problem, talk to your doctor about the possibility of lowering your pressure a bit. It may let a few apneas through, but the trade-off might be worth it.

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

      Enjoy your day

  4. What has always worked well for me is to put one or two drops of camphor oil in the humidifier water. Let it run about 10 minuets before putting the mask on.

    1. Hi Brian,

      I am glad to hear that this is working for you. Please make note that it’s recommended that a customer not try to put essential oils in CPAP humidifiers directly. Instead, the recommended way to add CPAP aromatherapy to CPAP therapy is by using a diffuser pad. Putting scented oils in the humidifier can cause irritation and can damage the machine, and is not recommended.

      I wish you the best!

  5. Very interesting article.
    To help with a cold is posible or good advise to put some natural decongestant in the humidifier water, like eucalyptus ?


    1. Hey Rodolfo,

      It’s recommended that a customer not try to put essential oils in CPAP humidifiers directly. Instead, the recommended way to add CPAP aromatherapy to CPAP therapy is by using a diffuser pad. Putting scented oils in the humidifier can cause irritation and can damage the machine, and is not recommended. Please see below the link below for more information on an option to help with congestion.


      Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  6. I have noticed that I am having air cycling out through my mouth like little puffs. Are you familiar with this issue and do you have any suggestions such as the cause and possible solution? thanks in advance.

  7. I just wanted to let people know that I have followed all of this advice and it really has worked great for me. I switched to a full face mask to help with dry mouth and aerophagia. (I tried the air fit for women but ended up with a full face dreamwear. Keep it in mind as an alternative if the air fit doesn’t work out for you) I raised the head of my bed 6 inches using blocks and I sleep on my side whenever possible. Using my Airsense APAP with humidifier on has been great. I’m less congested while sleeping then when I get up. I get colds that last typically 6-8 weeks and I used to dread going to bed at night due to the increase in congestion. Now I look forward to the ease of breathing with use of my APAP at night. I’m very interested in feedback on cleaning systems for my equipment if anyone wants to share their good/ bad experiences. Thanks!

    1. Hey Debra, that is great! I wish you continued success with your CPAP Therapy journey.

      CPAP.com has a product called Lumin. It is a sanitizer which uses UV light to clean your mask, water chamber and other household items, but it will not clean your hose. Please see the link below for further information on this product.


      There is another product which we do not sell called the SoClean. Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of information on this product, but we have heard quite a bit of feedback from other customers. I would encourage you to visit SoClean.com for further information on this product.

      Please let us know if we can be of further assistance. We can be reached at: 1-800-356-5221, or visit us at: http://www.cpap.com.

      I hope this helps. Have a wonderful day!

  8. Hello,I read not to usecCPAP if you have Bronchitis as it will infect lungs..please respond ASAP.Thankyou.

    1. Hi Bernadette, I am not medically trained to confirm if it is safe for you to use your CPAP Therapy with Bronchitis. I would strongly suggest that you speak with your doctor to confirm since they would have better insight on your individual medical condition to give you sound advice.

      If you would like to speak with us further, please call us at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Have a great day!

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