Sleep apnea + allergies = bad sleep. Help!
June 22, 2012 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I have sleep apnea, so I use a full-mouth mask when sleeping. I also have bad allergies, and I have found that for the last week or so, I'm waking up in the middle of the night, sneezing a bunch of times, and immediately get a stuffed nose that I can't clear, so I sleep the rest of the night without my mask. Any tips to combat this (meds don't help), either to keep me asleep, or help me once I wake up?
posted by evadery to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Do you take any allergy meds at all on a regular basis? I've found that if I take them at night before bed, they kick in and I can breathe all night.

Once you're up, hot steamy washcloth or shower, then back to bed.
posted by tilde at 7:12 AM on June 22, 2012

Do you have a humidifier attachment on your CPAP?
posted by gwenlister at 7:15 AM on June 22, 2012

I take meds in the morning. I find when I take them at night, I still do the 'wake up and sneeze' thing regardless.

I have a humidifier - this seems to happen both with it off and on, but I've had it off the last few days. Generally would I be better off with it on or off?
posted by evadery at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2012

My husband sleeps with a CPAP, and this happens to him when he doesn't use the humidifier. Also, how old is your machine? He took his in to be cleaned, and that helped too.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:43 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the allergy meds if possible, and as uncomfortable as you might think it, using nasal rinses, e.g. neti pot, an hour or two before bed (to mitigate nasal drip) may be helpful.
posted by palionex at 7:45 AM on June 22, 2012

There has to be something wrong with your CPAP - change your air filter, thoroughly clean the humidifier reservoir, get a new hose attachment. I too have allergies and using my CPAP has been heavenly because all the air I breathe is filtered, warmed and humidified. In theory you should not be getting enough allergens through your CPAP to cause this kind of symptom.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:56 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

My CPAP helps with the allergies. Definitely get your machine looked at.
posted by SMPA at 7:59 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

What allergy meds do you take? I normally take cetirizine (Zyrtec) daily for my allergies but when I started CPAP, I had to start using fluticasone (Flonase) spray to keep my nose open enough to breathe through it at night.

I had tried the Flonase spray in the past and it didn't seem to do much. But I guess with the combination of that *and* the pressure from the CPAP, it's enough to keep the passages open. I do also find that using the humidifier on a fairly high setting seems to help.

Also though, if you have a full face mask that covers your nose *and* mouth, can't you just breathe through your mouth when this happens? I thought that was the point of full face CPAP masks. (?)
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:18 AM on June 22, 2012

If you have a humidifier and it doesn't help with this, then I'm agreeing with above - there is something amiss with your CPAP and you should get it checked out. Sounds like there are some allergens trapped in the system that are causing the problems. It may need to be cleaned thoroughly, or it may just be time for a new one.
posted by gwenlister at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2012

Oh, I forgot to add: I have heard but not personally verified that some CPAP machines allow you to remove the tiny little air filter pad and instead connect a HEPA filter module to the air intake. If the things you are allergic to are airborne, it seems like that would be likely to help.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2012

You could be me. And if you are in the northern hemisphere, this is the season for allergies. They have hit me hard too this last ten days. Here are the steps I've been taking, which may or may not help you:
1. I've had to go back onto Claritin D-- I use the "D" formula because it has a 24-hour decongestant that usually keeps me dry all day. Also if you take it for a week or so the anti-histamines have time to build up in your system and should help with the red and swollen eyes. But with the high pollen count where I am (Washington state USA), I'm getting a lot of uncomfortable irritation even with the pills. If you are in the USA, Claritin D is available over the counter now. The cheapest place I've found it is at Costco. They sell their house label "Kirkland" generic for about eight dollars for 15 daily doses. This is less than half the price you will pay anywhere else.
2. Yes, clean your CPAP as suggested by others. I clean mine every day during the summer, and rigorously change the filters in the back. It may not be necessary to stop using the humidifier-- it can actually help some people with allergies. However, if your humidifier tank is in any way green or growing algae or fungus, you must clean and disinfect and change it immediately! That will definitely contribute to your problems. Also, it is a disgusting dirty habit for any CPAP user to let their machine grown green slime that gets pumped directly into their lungs, and they should be ashamed. I'm sure this is not you, however. I'm positive you are a great guy, and very clean.
3. In my similar problems these last two weeks, I've been using a netti-pot before going to bed. It really helps. If you are like my wife and hate the feeling of warm salty water in your sinuses, I would say that it has such a great effect that the pain is worth it. It really is!
4. Two days ago I bought some generic (Rite-Aid) allergy-reducing eye drops. I've been getting a lot of red inflamed drive-me-crazy itchy eyes, and it really helps. Make sure it is the allergy, redness reducing kind of eye drop, aka "Visine" or similar, not just a lubricating drop. They are safe to use up to four times a day. So far I've been averaging about two.
5. OK I'm sorry if this is a little gross, but it is a technique that has helped when almost nothing else will. If I am so stuffed up that I can't breathe any other way, I will lay on my side with the obstructed nostril towards the ceiling. In a matter a minutes, gravity will drain the mucus from my nostril down and it will clear. It is a fantastic feeling when it first happens. You can breathe! For a few minutes, anyway. Then you need to flip over to the other side and repeat the process. My body now does this automatically when I sleep, as well. My wife claims that is also rises two inches off the bed as it flips over. It kind of freaks her out.
6. Finally, a plea from a real sleep apnea fellow sufferer-- Please don't sleep without your CPAP, no matter how bad it gets! You are literally drowning your brain from lack of oxygen. Try some of my methods, get a new machine, see a doctor if you have to, but don't take off that mask.

Well, good luck with your misery. I can really feel where you are coming from on this one. I hope you are able to get some relief. The above combination of actions have helped me out quite a bit!
posted by seasparrow at 8:30 AM on June 22, 2012

Seconding the recommendation of nasal rinsing, though I prefer the NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle to the neti pot.

(And before we get into the "You'll put your eye out, kid!" blah blah about how nasal rinsing is bad and doctors don't believe in it, this was recommended to me by an ENT who has been teaching at Harvard Medical School for decades.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:33 AM on June 22, 2012

Also prefer the NeilMed bottle to a neti pot, but make sure to boil the water first, or use distilled water. The "tiny little air filter pad" in my CPAP says it's HEPA, so I didn't think I would need any kind of attachment. I'm going to double check myself on that, though.
posted by akaJudge at 9:18 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Along with everyone else's suggestions with checking your CPAP,if your allergies are bad enough, you may want to talk to your doctor about allergy shots (aka allergen immunotherapy shots) instead of (or along with) antihistamines.
posted by thebestsophist at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is your nose stuffed because it's full of mucus, or due to swelling of the nasal passages? If it's the latter, I have a weird trick that sounds crazy but works: take a deep breath and hold your breath for as long as you can (at least for a 30-count). Somehow your body realizes you aren't breathing and sends some kind of Emergency Override to the nasal passages to make them open up again. If it doesn't work the first time, do it again. This effect will last long enough for me to fall asleep again.
posted by emeiji at 6:28 PM on June 22, 2012

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