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Why CPAP Treatment is Safe When Used Properly (No, It Can’t Kill You)

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It has been more than two years since reports first broke of a Philips Respironics recall, impacting the company’s most popular Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices. The news shocked millions of people, but more importantly, it also left CPAP owners with a lot of questions about the safety of using a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea.                           

Since even before those early days of the recall, though, many fears had been voiced about the dangers of CPAP machines, with some even asking, “Can a CPAP machine kill you?” While we want to assure you that CPAP therapy is safe, we hope to answer some of your questions and address concerns about CPAP-related deaths.

We’ll look at the cases linked to the Philips recall and discuss whether today’s CPAP machines are safe to use. We will also talk about the risks associated with using a CPAP machine, plus the warning signs to look out for. Finally, we’ll explain why CPAP therapy is still the gold standard for treating sleep apnea and what you can do to minimize any potential risks to your health. 

Can a CPAP Machine Kill You?

There is no evidence that current FDA-approved CPAP machines cause life-threatening complications when used correctly. Previously recalled PAP devices have been linked to deaths, but experts agree that these are rare events and that the benefits of treating sleep apnea far outweigh the slight risk associated with CPAP machines.  

Even with the recalls, you are highly unlikely to die from using your CPAP machine. While CPAP therapy does sometimes cause unpleasant side effects, they are rarely serious enough to warrant medical attention or lead to death as long as they are addressed quickly. 

Have There Been Any Deaths Linked to CPAP Machines?

According to the FDA, reports of CPAP-related deaths are normally very rare. However, as of March 2023, there were 385 deaths linked to the 5.5 million Positive Airway Pressure devices recalled during the Philips recall. While that sounds like a big number, it comes to about 0.007%. There have been no official reports of CPAP machine deaths or serious injuries outside of a recall.

In a recent FDA report, the use of recalled Philips devices resulted in life-threatening complications, including cancer, pneumonia, asthma, and organ damage. Based on their report, these effects were caused by a specific type of material used to reduce noise and vibration in medical devices, called PE-PUR foam. 

Following the recall, people are understandably concerned about the safety of using even non-Philips CPAP machines. So, the FDA began investigating all approved PAP manufacturers in response to these growing concerns. 

After completing their investigation, the FDA stated that there is no evidence to suggest that PE-PUR foam was used in any other CPAP machines or by any other manufacturers. Ultimately, we are safe to continue using our CPAP machines as long as they were not part of the recall. 

Can Your CPAP Machine Make You Sick?

CPAP machines are a breeding ground for germs, which is why keeping your equipment clean is so important. Failing to use and maintain your CPAP device properly can lead to infection of the sinuses, mouth, eyes, and respiratory tract. But, with proper care, CPAP complications rarely become serious. 

How Does CPAP Make You Sick? 

Let’s talk about some of the top health concerns that can arise if you do not follow your CPAP manufacturer’s directions. 

  • Sinus Infections: CPAP machines can cause nasal congestion, dryness, and irritation. Normally, this is not an issue. However, in some cases, these conditions may prevent proper sinus drainage, leading to a sinus infection. Your risks for CPAP sinus issues are even higher if your CPAP device is dirty.
  • Meningitis: Reported cases of CPAP-related meningitis are very rare. It is thought that they occur due to an untreated sinus infection or from using a CPAP machine after recent head trauma. 
  • Skin Infections: Poorly cleaned or ill-fitting CPAP masks often cause skin irritation, which may lead to discomfort, redness, and itching. Without quick treatment, these sites can become infected.
  • Respiratory Infections: If you don’t clean and replace your CPAP equipment as directed, it will become contaminated with germs, which can get into your CPAP air. Breathing in contaminated air can lead to respiratory infections, such as sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
  • Eye Infections: Poorly fitted masks cause air leaks, often leading to dry eyes. Without this necessary moisture, dry eyes are prone to infection. 
  • Oral Infections: Like dry eyes, a dry mouth can result in various oral health issues, including gum disease, mouth sores, and tooth decay. 

Is Your CPAP Making You Sick?

As long as you keep your CPAP machine, mask, and hoses clean, it is unlikely that you will become sick from CPAP therapy. That said, it’s always a good idea to be aware of the potential warning signs that your CPAP is causing issues. 

Here are some things to be on the lookout for!

  • New Headaches
  • Lingering Nasal Congestion
  • Regular Sinus Infections
  • Lingering Cough
  • Recurring Respiratory Infections
  • Worsening Shortness of Breath
  • New Oral Health Issues
  • Repeated Episodes of Dizziness
  • Skin Irritation Along Your Mask Cushion
  • Chronic Dry Mouth, Nose, and/or Eyes 

The Benefits of CPAP Therapy Outweigh the Risks

Experts agree that the benefits of CPAP therapy far outweigh the risks. Sleep apnea not only impacts your day-to-day life by causing extreme daytime fatigue and other sleep apnea symptoms. It also increases your risk of premature death. As a result, you are far more likely to die due to sleep apnea than you are from CPAP-related complications. 

Studies show that your risk of dying decreases significantly with CPAP therapy, with one French study showing that people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea were 27% less likely to die for any reason. Another study showed that CPAP improved the 5-year survival rate of elderly participants by 25%.

Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea

While you are unlikely to die from sleep apnea alone, this condition is associated with many long-term health risks that increase each time you slow or stop breathing from sleep apnea. Because of this, untreated sleep apnea is associated with a variety of serious medical conditions, including the following: 

Benefits of CPAP Therapy

Although some people have concerns and may find CPAP therapy difficult to get used to, it truly makes a huge difference in your health and quality of life, especially if you use your machine regularly. Many people don’t even realize how much sleep apnea impacts them until after they finally get a good night’s sleep with CPAP.

Some notable benefits of CPAP therapy are: 

  • Lower Risk of Death
  • Improved Heart Health
  • Lowers High Blood Pressure
  • Reduced Risk for Stroke
  • Lower Risk of Diabetes
  • Reverses Sleep Apnea-Related Brain Damage
  • Better Mental Health
  • Reduces Your Risk of Accidental Injuries
  • More Energy
  • Increased Productivity
  • Easier Weight Loss

How to Minimize the Risks of Using a CPAP Machine

While the idea of getting sick from your CPAP machine sounds scary, it’s usually pretty easy to avoid. The key is to educate yourself on your machine, maintain your equipment, and address issues early on. 

Below are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing complications due to your CPAP: 

  • Purchase Your CPAP From an Authorized Seller: It is important to know what you are buying and who you are buying it from. Purchasing a CPAP machine from an authorized seller ensures that it is FDA-approved and is in good shape. And never buy a CPAP machine without a prescription!
  • Get to Know Your CPAP: Take time to understand how your CPAP machine works and how to maintain your equipment.
  • Clean Your Equipment Regularly: If your CPAP equipment is not cleaned regularly, it can develop bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes that make you sick. By cleaning your equipment weekly with soap and water and only using distilled water with your CPAP machine, you’ll help protect yourself from illness and infections. 
  • Replace Your CPAP Gear On Time: Even if you clean your CPAP equipment regularly, over time, your mask, hoses, filter, and water tank will develop a build-up of dirt, debris, and germs, so it’s important to replace them on time. 
  • Address CPAP Side Effects: As beneficial as CPAP therapy is, it can also cause some unpleasant side effects that may become bigger issues if they aren’t addressed quickly.  
  • Make Sure Your Pressure Settings Are Correct: If your CPAP air pressure is set too high, it can lead to mask leaks and dryness. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that your pressure settings need to be lowered. 
  • Use Distilled Water in Your CPAP Humidifier: CPAP humidifiers reduce dryness and make CPAP more comfortable. But humidifiers can also be a source of illness if they are used with unsafe water or are left uncleaned for extended periods of time. 
  • Use a Properly Fitted CPAP Mask: CPAP masks can be a source of discomfort with CPAP therapy if they are not fitted correctly. When you are choosing a mask, be sure to select one that fits your face shape and does not irritate your skin. 
  • Talk to Your Healthcare Provider: It is always a good idea to seek professional medical advice if you have safety concerns about any medical treatment. Your doctor or sleep specialist will have up-to-date information on CPAP health risks and can provide personalized advice. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Are the CPAP Alternatives for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

There are many CPAP alternatives for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, including Positional Therapy, Oral Appliance Therapy, surgery, and lifestyle changes. If you have severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea, your doctor may even suggest implementing some of these treatment options with CPAP.

What Are the CPAP Alternatives for Central Sleep Apnea?

When it comes to Central Sleep Apnea treatments, there are fewer solutions available compared to OSA. That said, if you have CSA and cannot use a CPAP machine, your doctor may suggest a surgical implant that stimulates your diaphragm. Plus, they’ll probably suggest some lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and certain medications.

How Can I Maximize the Benefits of CPAP Therapy?

The best way to make sure you get the most out of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy is to do your best to use your CPAP machine regularly, keep your equipment clean, and replace parts as directed by your CPAP manufacturer. 

Does Severe Sleep Apnea Require CPAP Therapy?

If you have severe sleep apnea, your healthcare provider will most likely suggest that you target your sleep apnea from all sides. While this usually includes high pressure CPAP therapy, your doctor will probably encourage you to also make some lifestyle changes and try to avoid sleeping on your back. 

Are There People Who Shouldn’t Use a CPAP Machine? 

CPAP is successful for a lot of different types of people. However, there are some instances where it may not be a good fit, such as people with:

  • Extreme Anxiety
  • Facial Trauma
  • Air Leak Syndrome
  • Loss of Respiratory Control
  • Altered States of Consciousness
  • Nighttime Vomiting

Final Thoughts

The decision to do CPAP therapy can be difficult, and news of CPAP machine recalls and unpleasant side effects doesn’t make it any easier. Like most medical treatments, CPAP can come with some downsides, but the good news is that it is very unlikely to cause serious health problems and the benefits will greatly outweigh potential risks. 

If you are concerned that your CPAP machine may have a negative impact on your health, there are things you can do to help! Make sure you are using your CPAP correctly. Be sure to keep your equipment clean and replace it when necessary. And if you do begin to see signs of trouble, address them quickly so that they don’t become a bigger issue later on. 

If you have questions about the safety of CPAP therapy, we encourage you to speak with your healthcare provider for more personalized advice!

  • Kenzie Dubs

    Kenzie is a science-based content writer who has a passion for educating the public on the healing powers of sleep! She graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 2016 and went on to earn a second degree in nuclear medicine shortly after. She has several years of professional experience in healthcare, including emergency medicine, radiology, and general care. Along with her unique background, Kenzie also has personal experience with sleep apnea, including loved ones who have recently begun their own CPAP journeys. With each article, she aims to provide our readers with honest, accurate information that they can use to improve their health and wellness!

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