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Colds, Viruses, and Sleep Apnea

Posted Oct 07 2010 6:49pm

Have you ever wondered by some people never get colds? Why do other people get colds at the drop of a sneeze? An opinion piece recently published in the New York Times explains away a common myth—that you have to strengthen your immune system to fight a cold. His argument is that your symptoms of a cold are actually your immune system over-reacting to harmless viruses. This is similar to your immune system over-reacting to typical typical allergens like dust or pollens. So if you make your immune system even stronger, your cold will get worse.

In this article, the author also points out that most cold viruses are harmless, causing mild inflammation and swelling in the nose. Only some people end up going on to full-blown sinus, ear or throat infections.

This is where my sleep-breathing paradigm fits in nicely. If you assume that all modern humans stop breathing once in a while due to narrowed upper breathing passageways, then any degree of inflammation (from a cold, an allergy, weather changes, or even acid reflux) can narrow any part of your nose, and this can aggravate a vicious cycle where more frequent obstructions can occur behind your tongue, suctioning up more stomach juices back up into your throat and even your nose. Narrowing of your jaws also narrows your nasal and sinus structures, and even a slight degree of swelling can significantly diminish airflow through your nose.

Furthermore, most cases of sore or scratchy throat isn’t really from the viral infection—it’s from your stomach juices, which includes bile, digestive enzymes, acid, and bacteria. This is why many people have sore throats the morning after drinking or eating late. Many women have sore throats in the days before their periods. I had one woman tell me that she gets sore throat whenever she gets wet or if it rains. Hormonal changes (especially progesterone) during monthly periods causes relaxation of the tongue muscles, which can fall back more easily whenever you’re in deep sleep. Weather changes can also aggravate nasal membranes, causing additional inflammation, aggravating further tongue collapse.

By definition, if you have a sleep-breathing problem, your immune system is overly active. And so is your nervous system. This is why your body over-reacts to weather changes, certain foods, emotions, pollens, chemicals, and even certain sounds.

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