How a CPAP Machine Can Make You Sick

Photo by Chalermpon Poungpeth /

A CPAP machine is designed to boost your health. But if you aren’t careful, it could have the opposite effect.

These machines are often used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, which causes people to periodically stop breathing while they sleep.

By pushing air through a tube, into a mask and down your throat, CPAP machines help keep your airway open throughout the night. (CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.”)

But CPAP machines also collect germs as they are used. Dr. Lawrence Epstein, a sleep expert at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tells the Harvard Health Letter:

“The mask sits on the face, in contact with organisms on the skin. Over time, bacteria and oils on a dirty mask may give you a rash or infection on the skin.”

In addition, dirty water in the water reservoir can put you at risk for breathing in bacteria or mold.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix: the routine cleaning of the machine and its attachments.

According to the Harvard Health Letter, you should:

  • Wash the mask, water chamber and tubing in hot, soapy water every morning. Make sure to submerge the tubing and allow water to run through it. Then, air-dry everything.
  • Wash the headgear and the filter weekly. It’s also wise to soak the water chamber in white vinegar once a week to deter mold.
  • Change the disposable filter monthly.

Don’t want to do all that work? Cleaning systems also are available, and they appear to do a good job. But they can be expensive.

Looking for ways to avoid ill health? Check out “Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines.”

Do you have tips for cleaning a CPAP machine? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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