Acute rhinitis, or the common cold, can be viral or bacterial. Symptoms may appear similarly between them, which include a runny nose, headache, facial pressure, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, mucous production, nasal passage congestion, and even a temperature. These symptoms are generally self limiting, which over time, your body is able to overcome and resolve on its own.
Because the common cold is often associated with nasal drip and mucous production, an inflammatory reaction by your mucous membrane in the nasal passage, a good amount of discharge is either blown out on a Kleenex or swallowed. Post nasal drip describes this phenomenon when mucous or inflammatory discharge gets into the esophagus, which when inadvertently swallowed can be neutralized by the hydrochloric acid in your stomach.
The problem is the night time while you sleep. Sleeping on your back causes nasal discharge to flow into the esophagus and potentially into the trachea. The tracheal junction is an entry point into the lungs. If the drip continues long enough to form a significant volume in that region, you may accidentally aspirate the content, consequently allowing bacterial or viral content to the enter the bronchial spaces and produce an inflammatory reaction.
Your lungs may overcome this infiltration, but if your immune system is weak or compromised, it wouldn't overcome it as easily and cause the symptoms often associated with bronchitis, including wheezing, productive cough, chest congestion, and perhaps fever.
By sleeping on your side, and not just turning your head to the side, you reduce the gravitational influence on post nasal discharge from traveling backwards into your trachea and subsequently prevent its entry into the bronchial regions below the trachea. Sleeping on your side may take some planning if you are not a side sleeper.
In order to support your shoulder while sleeping on your side, you may want a pillow to hug in addition to adding a slight elevation to the pillow on your neck to neutralize the neck position. That’s right, 2 additional pillows...one for your shoulder, and one more for the neck. Hugging a pillow while on your side prevents the bottom shoulder from being compressed, and the upper shoulder from sagging and placing pressure on your chest.
Changing sleeping posture is not a substitute for proper medical intervention, but it is a simple but little known method for controlling the travel of post nasal discharge into the pulmonary tract. It may not work for everyone, but maybe this season it’s worth trying!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.