Tag Archive for: Allergies and Congestion

Spring has sprung and so has allergy season in Montreal, making it a challenge for CPAP users like me who also struggle with a stuffy nose and sneezing fits.

Getting a good night’s sleep during this period needn’t be impossible. Below are my suggestions as a veteran CPAP user and allergy sufferer.

The time to take a break from your CPAP is NOT when you’re congested

When allergies are getting the better of me, I frequently wake up to find my mask flung unceremoniously on the floor. At some point during the night, I found it hard to breathe and unknowingly removed the offending mask.

I know from personal experience that this is precisely the time when it is even more important to keep using it. If used properly, the CPAP machine can relieve the discomfort of symptoms caused by nasal congestion and allow you to get a proper night’s sleep so that you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day and the pollens drifting through the air.

So how can you optimize CPAP use when breathing through your nose feels downright impossible?

woman next to flowers, blowing her nose

CPAP Humidification is key.

Your nose is constantly doing two things:

Warming incoming air so it reaches your lungs at body temperature; and
Secreting fluid to help clear out allergens

Adding CPAP air without humidification means your nose has to work extra hard to warm all this extra air and produce even more fluid to maintain its moisture on top of clearing out allergens.

Humidifying your CPAP air takes the burden of warming that air off your nose so it can stay moist without extra effort and produce just enough fluid to combat allergens. This helps lower congestion and inflammation caused by allergens, since your nose is now more efficient at clearing them out.

If you have a humidifier and you’re not using it, it’s time to dust it off and fill it with distilled water. If you’re having trouble with your humidifier, we would be happy to help you.

sleepstyle humidification

Hypoallergenic filters

Change your CPAP machine’s filter at least once a month and use hypoallergenic filters. This is imperative for us seasonal allergy sufferers. Airborne particles, such as pollen, dust and spores can get into your CPAP machine. The filters are designed to clear these elements from the air that is directed into the machine and ultimately to your lungs.

hypoallergenic filters for Airsense 10

Reducing allergens in the home

Very simply, close your windows at night to reduce exposure to allergens and use AC if necessary. Seasonal allergies are usually brought on by tiny airborne particles from trees, pollen, grass, ragweed or outdoor mold, which are inhaled through the nose and trigger a chemical reaction in the body that leads to nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. Why invite the offending allergens in?


Full Face CPAP mask

When all else fails, invest in a backup full face mask (FFM). If you’re using a nasal mask and you’re congested, swap out your nasal mask for one that covers your nose and mouth. A full face mask will allow you to breathe through your mouth and continue your CPAP treatment.

Full-face masks: Airfit F20, Vitera and Mirage Quattro

Think of your CPAP as your friend during allergy season

As an allergy sufferer, I am grateful to be using my CPAP. It gets me through the worst of the hay fever season. The warm, humid air clears my upper airways so that I can get some relief from a stuffy nose and a dry mouth. Patients frequently tell us that they don’t use their machine when they’re congested. Congestion is precisely the time when you want to be using your CPAP!

CPAP machine in a field

These top tips can help you get a good night’s sleep every night this summer so that you can have the energy to enjoy the season to the fullest.

Ah, summer nights – we wait all year to enjoy warm evenings outdoors, relaxed school and work schedules, big BBQ get-togethers, and time spent in and on the water. But the summer heat and increased activity makes it harder to sleep peacefully, and can worsen symptoms for sleep apnea sufferers. Get a good night’s sleep every night this summer with these top tips that will have you waking up rested and brimming with energy to make the most of everything the season has to offer.

sun tired

Why is it so hard to get a good night’s sleep in the summertime?

  • Elevated temperatures and humidity

    Summer nights can be hot and steamy – and during heat waves in particular, it can be very difficult to find to get comfortable to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature range for sleep is between 12°C and 24°C, and if temperatures vary outside that range, sleep can be disturbed. Add in a few extra degrees for the humidity, and it’s common for evening temperatures in the summer to be well above this range.

  • Longer days and more sunlight

    The farther away we live from the equator, the more the summer season lengthens our days. In much of Canada, the sun doesn’t set until well into the evening, and is up long before we want to be. Early light can wake us up and make it difficult to fall back asleep, robbing us of precious hours of rest.

  • More time spent outdoors

    While fresh air can actually help improve sleep, increased time spent outside can also heighten our exposure to allergens, which can lead to nasal congestion that makes it harder to breathe when sleeping and can worsen symptoms for sleep apnea sufferers. Click here to read more about seasonal allergies and sleep apnea.

  • Vacation travel

    Travel across time zones can cause jet lag, which upsets our regular circadian rhythms and can leave us wide awake in the middle of the night and sleepy during the day. In addition, sleep apnea sufferers who require equipment to help them sleep can forget to bring what they need on vacation, or find themselves in a situation where it is difficult to use the equipment, such as on a camping trip. Not using this equipment, even for one night, can have drastic effects on the quality of sleep.

Woman lying in bed, rubbing her blocked sinuses caused by allergies

Six tips for getting a good night’s sleep every night this summer:

  1. Stick to a routine as much as possible.

    Go to bed around the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, including on weekends. Because digestion can cause discomfort in the heat, avoid eating and drinking for one to two hours before bedtime, and if drinking alcohol, have your last drink at least three hours before going to bed. Caffeine is also known to disrupt sleep, so avoid it after midday.

  2. Embrace the darkness.

    Make sure your room is dark at nighttime by drawing the curtains or blinds and limiting ambient light from lamps and screens. If sunlight streams into your window before you are ready to rise, look into blackout curtains or sleep with an eye mask.

  3. Turn down the noise.

    While it’s tempting to sleep with the windows open on summer nights, there’s nothing like the noisy chirping of birds at dawn or the roar of a lawn mower to wake us up earlier than we’d like to rise. If that is the case for you, close the windows or wear earplugs. If noise is an issue when you are falling asleep, you may want to look into a white noise machine or use a fan (see #4 below).

  4. Create a comfortable environment for sleep.

    Make sure the room temperature is comfortable, and switch out your regular duvet for something lighter. If you sleep with a partner, you may both be more comfortable with your own light quilt or coverlet. If your pillow gets overheated, consider one made of buckwheat, which does not trap heat. To keep temperatures cool, use air conditioning if possible, or perhaps a fan, which has the added benefit of providing a soothing ambient noise. Are you experiencing condensation in your CPAP mask? Learn how to adjust the humidity on your CPAP machine.

  5. Have a heat-wave game plan.

    When the temperature and humidity spike, a cool shower or swim before bed can help cool the body before slipping between the sheets. If it’s really hot, consider slipping ice packs between your sheets a few hours before bed, and take them out when you turn in. Remember that most body heat escapes via the head, hands, and feet, so make sure those body parts are left exposed. And drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, but ease up one to two hours before bed, so that you won’t wake up during the night to use the bathroom.

  6. When traveling, plan ahead for good sleep.

    Make a checklist to be sure to pack any equipment you may need for sleep apnea, and carry supplies that can help improve sleep on the plane with you, including earplugs, a sleep mask, and a travel pillow. Upon arrival, do what you can to make your sleeping environment as comfortable, dark, and cool as possible. To mitigate the effects of jet lag, adopt the schedule of your new time zone immediately, and make every effort to be outside in the morning sun at the time you would now like to wake up. This will help reset your body’s natural circadian rhythm.


At Apnea Health, we can help

If you still find that despite this tips you are unable to get a good night’s sleep, there may be more than the summer heat, humidity and long hours of sunlight to blame. If you are not sleeping well and waking up exhausted, contact one of our sleep specialists today to set up a sleep test. Summer is too short not to be enjoyed to the fullest, and we can help you get your sleep back on track so that you will have the energy you need to get outside, have fun, and make the most of the beautiful weather.

guy sleeping

Cold and flu season is upon us

We all wanted to hope it wouldn’t be true, and it’s easy to pretend it isn’t coming back when you’re still sipping drinks on the patio at the height of summer, but like it or not every winter, magical as the season can sometimes be, also comes with the risk of falling under the weather.

CPAP can relieve cold symptoms

When your nose is congested it can seem like putting on the mask is the last thing you want to do – but don’t fall for it! Done right, not only can CPAP treatment boost your immune system by helping you get the restorative sleep you need, but the warm, humidified air can provide direct relief of symptoms. Here are a few pointers for you to make the most out of your treatment, even when you have the flu, so that you feel better and get better faster.

Sick woman blowing her nose while lying in bed

Heated humidity helps

Don’t forget to fill your water tank! Most CPAP machines these days come with the ability to add warm humidity to the air you breathe. If yours doesn’t, an upgrade is definitely worth the investment! They were designed to improve comfort at all times, but humidifiers are especially helpful in dry winter air, and most especially when you’re sick. Pressurized air, with the added warmth and humidity, can physically loosen up a congested nose and help you breathe easier. But it doesn’t work if you don’t use it – so make sure you refill your humidifier tub every night with distilled water.

humidification resmed airsense

Change up your position

If you’re used to sleeping like a big happy starfish, good for you, but it might not help things when you’re feeling sick. Sleeping on your back will tend to increase stuffiness and post-nasal drip. An easy tip is to try flipping onto your side when you sleep, to avoid uncomfortable build-up. Just make sure to have the right sized pillow under your head and neck to keep your spine aligned – you don’t want to add a stiff neck to your list of cold symptoms.

Sleeping man spread out on his bed

The contour CPAP pillow will help you keep yourself in a comfortable position while keeping your hose under control all night.

contour pillow

Shop contour pillow

Flush out the pipes

The Neti pot is an ancient Indian invention that’s resurging in popularity for its simplicity and effectiveness at relieving nasal congestion. It’s essentially a funny-looking little teapot made of ceramic or plastic that you use to pour a solution of salt, baking soda and distilled water (which you should already have on hand) through your nostrils to clear out nasal and sinus congestion. They’re available at pharmacies everywhere and can provide great relief when you’re all blocked up. If you prefer a more modern approach, you can also find pre-packaged saline sprays or over the counter decongestant or antihistamine nasal sprays that will help keep the pipes clear and make breathing through your nose easier, so you can keep using your CPAP.

Neti pot with Himalayan salt

The big guns – the full face mask

People that are chronic mouth-breathers when they sleep will probably already have been guided into the wonders of the full face mask, and know it lets you continue therapy while breathing through your mouth all night. If you’re already one of them, maybe skip ahead to the next section… Alright. For the rest of us who are used to nasal or nasal pillow masks: when you’re super congested and nothing is working to clear your nose, a full face mask will let you breathe through your mouth while still getting the full benefit of your CPAP treatment, so you sleep better and begin to feel better faster as a result. The same applies whether it’s a cold or it’s allergies blocking you up, and it works so well that many chronic sufferers will buy a full face mask as a backup to use when the nasal mask just won’t cut it.

Full-face masks: Airfit F20, Vitera and Mirage Quattro

Go with an Auto CPAP

Auto CPAP machines don’t just blow air at a fixed pressure, they use sophisticated algorithms to measure your needs and adjust accordingly, so you get more air when you need it. That means when your nasal passages are restricted, the machine can tell you’re working harder to breathe and will adjust to give you the pressure you need.

sleepstyle CPAP machine on a bedside table with a couple sleeping in the background

If you don’t have an Auto CPAP or it’s time for an upgrade, they’re definitely worth looking into.

Apnea Health can help find just the right machine for you.

Airsense, Dreamstation and Sleepstyle CPAP machines

Being advised to switch to a full face mask isn’t a sentence – in fact it can be incredibly liberating!

Don’t think it means you’re in for some bulky WWII-looking thing; full face masks today are comfortable and easy to wear, and for lots of people they work better than their more compact cousins.

Why short change your therapy if a full face mask will help you sleep and feel even better? Here are some reasons a bigger mask might be a fit for you…

You’re a mouth-breather

Don’t be insulted – we’re not name calling! But do you wake up with cottonmouth all the time? If so, it means you’re breathing through your mouth while you sleep and you definitely need a full face mask.

If you use a small nasal or nasal pillow mask but your mouth tends to fall open at night, the pressurized air will escape noisily from your mouth. Not only is that loud and disruptive, it renders your CPAP therapy way less effective.

man sleeping with his mouth open

It’s more humid outside than in

Does your pillow double as a drool-catcher? Come on, you know who you are! If this applies to you, even some of the time, you’re probably experiencing occasional dryness as well, either in your mouth or your nasal cavities.

But I have a humidifier you say? Well, humidifiers help a lot, but if your mouth is open with a nasal mask they don’t work nearly as well – the moist air comes in through your nose but blows right back out through your mouth, making the whole system less efficient.

Don’t be afraid to try a full face mask and enjoy the maximum benefit of your CPAP; your body (and your pillowcase) will thank you!

dry desert with dead trees

You’re under a lot of pressure

We’re not talking about stress, although a good night’s sleep with CPAP therapy can help with that too.

No, what we’re talking about is your pressure settings. If your respirologist says your therapy calls for a higher pressure, say a setting of higher than about 15cmH2O, a lightweight or nasal pillow mask might not cut it. A leaky seal at higher pressures is a common nuisance that’ll leave you steaming.

While a lighter mask may not seal under pressure, a full face mask will stay comfortably put no matter how high the pressure gets.

pressure gauge

You’re all stuffed up

Everyone gets congested from colds or allergies sometimes, some of us a lot of the time. When stuffiness strikes, breathing through your nose is like eating mashed potatoes with a straw, and your nasal mask quickly gets tossed.

Enter the full face mask! When the mask covers your nose and mouth, you get to breathe easier no matter how clogged your schnoz.

Full face masks are so effective at aiding sleep when you’re congested that a lot of patients keep one around as a ‘plan B’ when their nose gets too stuffed for their smaller mask to work. Why not? It isn’t like flu season or allergy season will stop coming, so if you know you’re going to be struck again, you might as well be prepared so you can get better sleep year round.

Whether full time or just when you need it, a full face mask is nothing to be shy about – it can make all the difference in your CPAP therapy. Talk to us today to see if a full face mask might be the right fit for you.

woman with allergies

The best fit for you

At Apnea Health, we’re all about making sure that your sleep therapy works for you. We carry many options for full face masks, so you can rest easy knowing you’ll find just the right fit.

man adjusting his full face mask

ResMed AirFit F20

  • Our best selling model, the F20 features a new InfinitySeal silicone cushion that moves with you and makes fitting easy
    It has easy-to-use magnetic clips for quick fitting
  • It has a comfortable, flexible fabric-lined frame
  • Available in a ‘for Her’ version tailored for a woman’s features
airfit f20

Shop the AitFit F20


ResMed AirTouch F20

  • Like the popular silicone version, but featuring an UltraSoft memory foam cushion that’s light and breathable
  • It has a new QuietAir diffuser that makes it quieter and gentler
  • It’s easy to maintain and clean and easy to replace
airtouch f20

Shop AirTouch F20

F&P Vitera

  • Features VentiCool breathable fabric headgear that allows 21 times more airflow to keep you cool and comfortable
  • The RollFit XT seal stays in place while you move and reduces pressure on the bridge of your nose
  • The dynamic stability bar keeps your mask secure all night
vitera ffm

Shop Vitera

ResMed AirFit F30

  • With its ultra-compact under-the-nose design, this mask leaves the bridge of your nose comfortable and mark free
  • Quiet diffused venting keeps noise to a minimum
  • It has easy-to-use magnetic clips for quick fitting
  • The F30’s clear field of vision makes it easy to read in bed, even with glasses on
F30 full face mask

Shop AirFit N30

Respironics DreamWear

  • The DreamWear’s unique design puts the hose above your head for total freedom of movement – no more nose hose!
  • Its soft silicone frame makes for a comfortable fit
  • The under-the-nose design means no red marks on the bridge of your nose, and a clear and open field of view

Shop Dreamwear

Every CPAP user in Quebec has to deal with it: the need for humidity in our climate.

Even if you’re already using a humidifier, you might have been asking yourself some common questions – like why is a CPAP humidifier important anyway? Does distilled water really make a difference? How do I deal when I travel?

Well, once again Apnea Health has your answers.

Why is a humidifier important? One word: comfort.

By using a heated humidifier, you reduce your chances of waking up with dry mouth in the morning, and being bothered by nasal congestion at night. While in the southern US it’s common to buy just the compressor without a humidifier, here in our Canadian climate, the extra humidity is a must. Because of that, humidifiers are usually included with CPAP machines sold here, so make sure you don’t miss out on their benefits!

Here’s what’s happening with your CPAP. In simple terms, your CPAP draws the ambient air from the room, filters out impurities, then passes it through the tube into your lungs at just the right pressure. It’s like a vacuum in reverse – just less noisy. Now imagine how you’d feel if it were blowing cold, dry air at you all night – ouch!

That’s where heated humidifiers and tubes come in

By using your humidifier, you’ll experience less dryness in your nose, sinuses and lungs. You can also reduce the risk of nasal congestion, inflammation, infections, and nosebleeds.1

As for a heated tube, well, that can help too. With standard tubing you can run into condensation problems – especially if the temperature in your room is on the cooler side. Humidity produced by your CPAP can wind up condensing in the tube if it’s cold, and get stuck there instead of making it to your nose where you want it. You may have noticed some “rainout” in your tube in the morning – which means you’re not getting the benefit of the humidifier and will probably still be stuck with some of the symptoms above.

Resmed ClimateLine Heated Tube for S9 Series

The water level in my humidifier hasn’t budged. Why?

Don’t panic! Your CPAP is working properly.

As we said before, the CPAP takes the air from your bedroom and sends it into your tube. An amazing thing with these machines is they constantly measure the humidity of the air they draw – if it already meets the comfort level you chose for your CPAP, the machine will leave the water tank alone and blow the air as is.

So, depending on the weather, the season, and personal preference, your CPAP’s thirst for distilled water will be different. Most of our patients need less distilled water in the summer, and ramp up in the winter when the air gets drier. Even in summer though, we recommend leaving a little water in your humidifier each night to prevent it from running dry and potentially damaging the heating element over time.

If it feels like your CPAP is causing dryness in your nose, sinuses or lungs, please let us know. We’re all about your sleep comfort. Just give us a call, or drop by anytime we’re open, and one of our respiratory therapists will be happy to help!

What’s with the fancy distilled water?

Lots of patients ask why they can’t just use tap water with their CPAP. After all, we’ve got some of the best tap water in the world – and it’s free – so why not use it?

The reason is there are still microorganisms and minerals in the water from your tap. According to Brandon Peters (2019), a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist:

“Boiling water will kill microbes, but it will not remove minerals or chemical contaminants. These minerals that make water ‘hard’ include calcium, magnesium, iron, and others—if they are present in the water put in the humidifier’s water chamber, over time scale will develop that discolors the container and could damage the machine. Filtered water may remove some of the minerals but may not remove living organisms or other chemicals. Bottled water that has been distilled is certainly the safest option.’’2

Using distilled water reduces mineral deposits in your water chamber

The odd splash of tap water won’t hurt the tank, but long term, mineral build-up from using hard water will damage the plastic and shorten its life. That’s why most CPAP manufacturers recommend distilled water.

water pouring

What about when I travel?

Travelling’s awesome. It means getting exposed to new cultures, architecture, food, and lifestyles. But it also means getting exposed to some fun new microbes your body isn’t used to. Even if the water’s safe to drink, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to put it in your CPAP. Peters mentions that “tap water within Neti pots in Louisiana has led to a few reports of harmful parasite infections affecting the brain. This condition can be fatal and treatment may be ineffective.’’1

All right, that sounds scary, and he goes on to say that “the same risk has not been demonstrated with the use of CPAP,” but think about it – everything in your water chamber gets vapourized and inhaled to your nose, sinuses and lungs. Do you really want to take the risk?

We recommend that you take the time to go buy a bottle of distilled water when you arrive at your destination. Call it a tourist experience – why not? So you get to go check out a grocery store in a new country. Hey, you can even pick up a little of what the locals eat at the same time… you might find it an interesting switch from what’s on the “tourist menu” at the restaurants!

the dreamstation is a great travel buddy

What NOT to do with your water chamber

If you keep in mind that everything that goes in your water chamber can go into your lungs, you should be ok. Wash it every day with mild soap and regular water, rinse carefully, then let it air dry. That’s enough to get rid of any bacteria before you fill it back up with distilled water.

Don’t get any silly ideas about putting alcohol, bleach or ammonia in there, or any perfumes or essential oils to make the air smell pretty – your lungs won’t thank you! Use nothing but soap and water for cleaning, and distilled water for therapy, and everything should be fine.

no bleach

Upgrade to a CPAP with advanced humidification

Resmed Airsense for Him

Learn more about the Airsense


Learn more about SleepStyle

Care for Life at Apnea Health

Don’t forget, the Apnea Health team wants to give you the best CPAP care you can get.

All of our patients are made part of our Care for Life Program, so whether it’s helping you tweak the level of humidity in your CPAP, answering any questions you might have, our respirologists and sleep experts are here for you!

let us help you with insurance claims

  1. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/what-you-should-know-about-cpap-humidification/
  2. Peters, B. (2019). Do You Have to Use Only Distilled Water in the CPAP Humidifier?. [online] Verywell health. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/do-you-need-distilled-water-for-the-cpap-humidifier-3015017 [Accessed 5 Oct. 2019].