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Can a CPAP Machine Make You Sick?

A CPAP machine has been called the “gold standard” for sleep apnea treatment1, and when used properly, it often has 100% effectiveness. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is interrupted during sleep because the airway is closed off. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine prevents that from happening.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a CPAP machine, it may help to know that CPAP therapy has been safely and successfully used to treat sleep apnea since the 1980s.2 When used properly, the therapy itself is not harmful. 

CPAP Side Effects

Though CPAP treatment is highly effective, it can come with side effects. It’s more common to experience side effects early in your treatment, because it often takes time to determine the right balance of mask size, air pressure, mask style, etc. 

While the process of using a CPAP machine won’t actually make you sick, some people do experience symptoms like congestion or dry mouth. Most side effects of CPAP treatment are not severe, they can cause discomfort. Often they will dissipate over time, but sometimes they may indicate a need for adjustment in your mask, air pressure or another component of treatment.

Common side effects of CPAP usage include:

  • Dry or stuffy nose/nosebleeds
  • Dry mouth
  • General mask discomfort
  • Skin irritation
  • Claustrophobia
  • Aerophagia (swallowing air causing bloating or gas)

Some of these side effects do align with symptoms of the common cold or other illnesses, so it’s understandable that someone could assume their CPAP machine made them sick. Generally, though, these are not symptoms of an actual illness. It may simply be a sign your treatment needs to be adjusted.

If you’re experiencing any of these side effects, talk to your doctor about making some changes. You may need a different type of mask, lower pressure or a different size mask. It often takes some time to find the right combination for you, but be patient. 

Studies show that anywhere from 30-50% of people prescribed a CPAP machine abandon the therapy or never fulfill the prescription.3 They continue to sleep poorly and experience the health risks of sleep apnea. But if you can stick with it, a CPAP can be a life-changing device for you. Learn more about how to manage CPAP side effects here.

Illness from Bacteria or Mold in CPAP Accessories

In some cases, illness can occur as a result of your CPAP usage. But the illness is not caused by the therapy itself. It’s caused by bacteria or mold that collects in your CPAP accessories when they are not properly disinfected after every use.

It’s extremely important to regularly maintain your CPAP mask and tubing. When you use it, you’re constantly breathing warm air and moisture into the accessories. It becomes a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.

Inhaling mold can lead to major respiratory issues, particularly when you’re breathing it in for hours at a time. Bacteria, yeast and fungal growth can also cause illness.

If you’re experiencing any of the following conditions, you may have mold or bacteria in your accessories:

  • Coughing fits
  • Respiratory & sinus infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumonitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Skin infection

Most CPAP manufacturers recommend washing the accessories with soapy water after every use. You can also use an ozone sanitizer like Sleep8 to help eliminate bacteria in your accessories. If you have a humidifier connected to your device, it’s also important to clean it regularly. Remember to never share your CPAP accessories with another person. 

With proper hygiene and maintenance of your accessories, you can enjoy the benefits of your CPAP machine while limiting the risk of CPAP-related illness.

 1UCHealth, The benefits of CPAP for sleep apnea include better sleep and less snoring, A Quick and Easy Guide to the History of CPAP Therapy 
 3Kaiser Health News, I’m A CPAP Dropout: Why Many Lose Sleep Over Apnea Treatment 

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