0800 024 8050

How Chronic Nasal Congestion Increases the Risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea


How Chronic Nasal Congestion Increases the Risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Nasal congestion leading to a blocked or runny nose can be uncomfortable at the best of times. It can make it particularly difficult to get a good night’s sleep. However, people who experience consistent chronic nasal congestion can double the risk of the sleep disorder Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

Those suffering with this disorder have their sleep frequently interrupted through the night as their airways become blocked. They often awake, sometimes gasping for air, leading to excessive tiredness during the day. Nasal congestion due to any cause will only add to the potential for the airways to become blocked.

Non-allergic Rhinitis

Although chronic nasal congestion can be a result of allergic rhinitis, for example from pollen associated with hay fever, people can also suffer with non-allergic rhinitis. 

In this case the inflammation in the nose is not caused by an allergen, but often due to swollen blood vessels and a build-up of fluids. When you have a cold or a viral infection the nasal passages can swell, stimulating the mucus glands, but due to the illness they are unable to effectively clean themselves. This can lead to the blocked or runny nose, sneezing and reduced sense of smell experienced with nasal congestion.

Non-allergic rhinitis can display symptoms which are similar to rhinitis caused by allergens. Aside from viral infections and colds, further causes could be medications, nasal decongestants, hormonal imbalance, nasal tissue damage and environmental factors such as smoke, weather changes, paint fumes and stress.

The mucus which builds up due to non-allergic rhinitis contains bacteria that causes inflammation. These inflamed nasal passages resulting from non-allergic rhinitis can lead to an infection called acute sinusitis. However, if this is left untreated it can develop in to chronic sinusitis with chronic nasal congestion a consequence and taking much longer to clear. 

As well as colds, sinusitis can be a result of environmental factors such as swimming in polluted water. Smoking can also make you more susceptible to this condition.

Nasal congestion could also be a result of structural issues in the nose, such as the physical disorder septal deviation, which results in largely constant nasal congestion. Whereas other forms of non-allergic rhinitis can be treated with antibiotics, nasal sprays or possibly steroids, a structural abnormality with the nose may require surgery.

Normal airway vs OSA

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
The Risk Factors of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) involves airways that become blocked or partially blocked as you sleep, prompting you to awake for air. You will not always be aware of waking up, however frequent it may occur, only being made aware of the issue from a partner. 

Constant nasal congestion is one of the risk factors for OSA and could double the chance of developing the sleep disorder. Most at risk from OSA are people who are overweight, have high blood pressure, smoke or have diabetes. Men are also more likely to suffer with OSA then women.

One of the main symptoms of OSA is the constant fatigue due to frequent interruptions to sleep. Other symptoms include heavy snoring, concentration and motivation difficulties, morning headaches, waking up with a dry or sore throat, anxiety and depression. 

It can be too easy to put symptoms like fatigue down to the stresses and strains of modern-day life, yet left untreated OSA can lead to serious health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Increased risk of injury from accidents due to fatigue

The Importance of Testing for Sleep Apnoea

Diagnosis is key for receiving the appropriate treatment for your level of obstructive sleep apnoea. A simple in-home test can be run over two consecutive nights in the comfort of your own home while you sleep. 

With this test the kit you will be sent will include a cuff to wear on your finger which is attached to a small monitor. The test will record blood oxygen levels and heart rate while you sleep, which is then analysed by fully trained sleep specialists once you return the equipment after completion of the in-home test. Testing is a critical first stage in addressing the symptoms of OSA

Remedies for Nasal Congestion

As nasal congestion can double the risk of OSA through completely blocking the airways, you should consult your doctor if you are constantly experiencing congestion. Solutions can be made at home or bought from a pharmacy to rinse out the nose to relieve congestion. 

If there are environmental triggers which accelerates the issue, such as smoke, these should be avoided where possible. 

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation is a proven technique that has been used for centuries, but is now up to date with the revolutionary SinuPulse Elite. No more awkward netipots or ineffective nasal sprays. Instead, the SinuPulse Elite offers a convenient and comprehensive solution to sinus problems. The pulsating mechanism makes nasal irrigation faster, more comfortable and more effective than ever before.

Choose between a soothing mist or cleansing jet spray. Both are included!

The SinuPulse Elite® Advanced Nasal Sinus Irrigation System was engineered by a team of Swiss professionals with over 30 years of sinus irrigation experience. It delivers a natural, soothing drug-free saline solution — via a gentle water flow or mist at a pressure you control, to help relieve unpleasant symptoms. This is because the specially formulated salts help draw out blockages and heal delicate nasal tissue. For more on the SinuPulse: https://www.cpap.co.uk/sinupulse-elite-nasal-sinus-irrigator.html

OSA Treatment

Treating nasal congestion helps keep the airways open and reduces the risk factor for OSA. However, if your in-home test results have led to a diagnosis of the sleep disorder your doctor will discuss treatment options appropriate to the level of OSA you have. 

For mild to moderate levels of OSA lifestyle changes may be enough to reduce the symptoms. Losing weight, exercise, and a healthier diet may all be recommended, as will quitting smoking and reducing how much alcohol you drink. You may be advised to wear a device on your side or back to prevent you sleeping on your back to help relieve OSA symptoms. You may also be advised to wear a mouthguard-style device as you sleep which pushes the lower jaw down to keep the airways open and aid breathing. 

For more severe OSA levels the leading treatment is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy which uses a machine to supply a steady stream of pressurised air through a mask while you sleep, again helping to maintain open airways and prevent chronic snoring.

As nasal congestion robs your body of the restorative sleep that’s necessary for good health, it’s best to discuss your problem with your doctor. You might also take the Intus in-home OSA test to learn if you might have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. It’s the first step toward a healthier, longer, more satisfying life.

To order the Intus At-Home Sleep Test: https://www.sleeptest.co.uk/product/in-home-sleep-test/

To shop for the highest-quality selection of CPAP devices (and Oral Devices): https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop.html



About author: Helen Clarkson is a Sleep Specialist at Baywater Healthcare. Ms. Clarkson has worked with Baywater since 2008, working closely with patients in delivering sleep/bi-level services including sleep and respiratory, both in the home and clinic setting. This includes therapy initiation and troubleshooting support. Ms. Clarkson is responsible for delivering the Baywater Healthcare patient adherence management programme to ensure continuing patient therapy compliance. works in conjunction with NHS clinicians and procurement to deliver excellence in home and clinic-based services. She provides training on all aspects of sleep including devices and interfaces. Previously, Ms. Clarkson served as Respiratory Physiologist at Pontefract General Infirmary. Her position was Senior MTO for lung function/sleep department, and she was responsible for performing simple and complex sleep studies, sleep study analysis, CPAP initiation, therapy adherence and troubleshooting/service clinics, spirometry, lung volumes and transfer factor, reversibility, CPET, hyperventilation testing, EIA testing, skin prick testing, 6 min walk tests. She has also held roles as Respiratory Physiologist and Respiratory Technician, working closely with patients with respiratory disorders -- including ex-miners. Ms. Clarkson has a BSc (Honors) in Applied biology from University of Staffordshire. She also studied Developments in Sleep Medicine (advanced course) at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and took the Edinburgh Sleep Medicine course. She completed the BSS: Advanced sleep course and the ARTP NIV Course.

In-Home Sleep Test

In-home Sleep Test provides a quick, convenient and affordable way to have Sleep Apnoea confirmed. All studies are independently analysed by experienced NHS-qualified sleep professionals, and use the WatchPAT recording device for unrivalled accuracy.
More info £195.00

Contact Us

Do you have any questions?


0800 024 8050 (from UK) or +44 800 024 8050 (non-UK) (9am - 5pm UK time, Monday to Friday)


0844 504 9494 (from UK) or +44 844 504 9494 (non-UK))

Head Office Address:

17 Boundary Business Centre
Boundary Way
Surrey GU21 5DH United Kingdom

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.