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Living With Sleep Apnea: Using a CPAP With COVID-19

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When I tested positive for COVID-19, a virus that attacks the lungs, I wasn’t sure how it would affect my Obstructive Sleep Apnea(OSA) and CPAP treatment. With the uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus, I wanted to share my journey from the lens of someone who has OSA—It’s important to remember that what worked for me may not work for you.

Here’s my timeline with COVID-19:

  • Day 1: The first symptoms I noticed I assumed they were just allergies. My nose was running, I was sneezing more than usual, and I had a sore throat. I did try allergy medicine; however, it didn’t help alleviate my symptoms. That morning, I also noticed mucus on my CPAP mask cushion, suggesting I was sneezing in my sleep.
  • Day 5: I woke up with a higher than average temperature, but it wasn’t over 100, and now felt additional fatigue and tiredness.
  • Day 8: By now, I lost my sense of taste and smell and was having stomach issues—it was time to get tested! I went to a walk-in COVID-19 testing center at a local urgent care, no referral needed. The test involved a cotton swab inserted into my nose, the discomfort didn’t last more than a few seconds, but it wasn’t pleasant.
  • Day 9: I noticed chest tightness, and my breathing changed— this was the moment it became real. I made sure to use my CPAP machine every night from this point forward and sterilized my mask each morning.
  • Day 12: My test results back positive for COVID-19. At this point, my symptoms were chest tightness, a slight fever, fatigue, muscle aches, a loss of taste and smell, and stomach issues. The scariest thing for me was not knowing if my symptoms were going to get worse. As it turned out, this was the peak.
  • Day 14: I started to feel better. Most of my symptoms subsided, and I felt like I had made it through the worst of it. I continued using my CPAP machine each night, and I noticed my events per hour were still really low. Some nights I would have a score of .9 to 1.6 events per hour, which is a great score to have despite the other complications.
  • Day 17: Thinking I had beaten the virus, I stopped taking cold medicine, and it turned out to be a mistake. My symptoms returned, and I started to feel bad again. These symptoms would persist for about five more days.

Coronavirus and Sleep Apnea

If you also have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, here are some things to keep in mind. It’s especially important to continue using your CPAP machine, even if you’re stuffy and congested. Here are some tips that may make it easier to use your CPAP machine if you also have COVID-19 (or cold or virus).

  • Use a Full Face Mask: When I had COVID-19, I had to deal with a lot of nasal congestion, and I sneezed more than I coughed. Wearing a full face mask helped as I could breathe through the mouth, and I didn’t have to try to force myself to breathe through the nose.
  • Follow a Strict Cleaning Regimen: When you’re sick, regular cleaning of your CPAP equipment becomes more important. I find that even when I’m not sick, I will sometimes sneeze and cough in my sleep, and the mask traps those germs. Cleaning not only makes your equipment look and smell better, but it also can help prevent reinfection should you become ill.
  • Sanitizing Tips: To keep my equipment germ-free, I use a UVC sanitizer called the Lumin at home. This device uses a UV light to sanitize and disinfect my mask’s surfaces, killing germs and viruses on contact in a convenient five-minute cycle. For spot cleaning, I also use CleanSmart Spray. Safe and non-toxic for CPAP equipment, CleanSmart Spray disinfects on contact and without any scrubbing.
  • Sleep on Your Stomach: According to a new study on COVID-19, doctors recommend those with COVID-19 sleep on the stomach. When you’re on your stomach, your organs aren’t pressing on your lungs as they would be on your back, helping you breathe more comfortably and increases the amount of oxygen in your blood. I found this piece of advice hard because I use a full face mask with a bulky hose connection. I compensated by sleeping on my side instead.

How Long Does Coronavirus Last?

I’m almost a month out and am still experiencing residual tiredness and fatigue, but my breathing has returned to normal, and the other symptoms have subsided. After day 18, I started to improve, but that isn’t the case for everyone.

According to an article from Health.com

The COVID-19 recovery period depends on the severity of the illness. If you have a mild case, you can expect to recover within about two weeks. But for more severe cases, it could take six weeks or more to feel better, and hospitalization might be required.

Coronavirus Symptoms

While the list of symptoms for Coronavirus is still developing and proving to display differently from person to person, here is a full breakdown according to the Center for Disease Control:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

I experienced the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

I think the symptom that bothered me the most was extreme fatigue and tiredness. If you’ve tested positive for Coronavirus, you have to be gentle with yourself. If you don’t have the energy to do a lot of stuff, that’s ok. Listen to your body, and pay attention to your symptoms.

If you feel any of the symptoms listed above, it may be time to consider getting tested for Covid-19. The Department of Health and Human Services has published a tool to help you find COVID-19 testing sites in your area.

Overall, my experience with COVID-19 and Obstructive Sleep Apnea was a lesson on why it’s essential to keep your distance, wear a mask, and minimize your interactions with other people.

What has your experience been like during the COVID-19 pandemic? Share your story in the comment section below.

  • David Repasky

    David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it's like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient's perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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