Imagine always feeling tired.
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You think you’re getting enough sleep, but you really aren’t. What you might not realize is that your breathing is being interrupted throughout the night. Your airway might close or your brain isn’t controlling your breathing properly so you can rest. And as this occurs, your vital organs are deprived of oxygen and your heart doesn’t work the way it should.
It’s a frightening thought, but a tough reality for about 22 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea.
Types of sleep apnea
There are two main types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, a good majority of those who suffer from this disorder (about 80%) are dealing with moderate to severe cases of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
With obstructive sleep apnea, the airway becomes blocked when the soft tissue near the back of the throat collapses while a person is sleeping. With central sleep apnea, the brain simply doesn’t give the muscles the signals needed to breathe.
How PAP machines help
Thankfully, sleep apnea doesn’t have to be a complete dream killer. Positive Airway Pressure, or PAP therapy, makes it possible for people with sleep apnea to rest without interruption.
CPAP machines, Bi-Level PAP machines or Adaptive-Servo Ventilation (ASV) machines help deliver PAP therapy. These machines deliver the right amount of air needed to keep the airway open during sleep.
While PAP machines can make nights so much better, the arrival of the coronavirus (COVID-19) might have users stressing about them a little. So, is your risk of getting or transmitting the virus greater if you use a PAP machine, or should you even continue to use your machine if you are infected? With the help of sleep disorders expert, Colleen Lance, MD, we’ll answer these questions.
Can PAP machines expose people to the coronavirus?
“PAP therapy is an open system that can generate contact, droplet, and airborne COVID-19, increasing the risk of transmission like other procedures such as tracheal intubation, noninvasive ventilation, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation,” says Dr. Lance.
She explains that for asymptomatic (not showing any symptoms) patients, PAP therapy might increase the risk for the transmission of COVID-19 to others who might be in the same space.
If you share a bedroom and have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it’s a good idea to use your PAP machine in another room until you know you’re in the clear. Dr. Lance also recommends using a separate bathroom if possible.
As for the risk of the virus being re-transmitted by your PAP machine’s tubing, filters or mask, that is still unknown at this time.
Should you keep using your PAP machine if you have the coronavirus?
Dr. Lance suggests that if you use a PAP machine for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, you’ll want to check with your medical provider to see if it’s OK to stop using it until you’re no longer contagious. This way, your provider can inform you of alternative methods that will help you sleep comfortably until you can use your machine again.
“Patients should be counseled about the risks of the short-term discontinuation of PAP therapy,” Dr. Lance explains. She says that by talking to your healthcare provider, you’ll know if you’ll be up against sleepiness throughout the day or cardiovascular issues.
If it’s recommended that you continue to use your PAP machine, you’ll need to quarantine yourself away from others. Once your symptoms pass, Dr. Lance strongly suggests changing your mask, tubing, filters and any other disposable accessories.
In the event that you need to go to the hospital, Dr. Lance recommends taking your PAP machine and accessories with you.
To prevent illness, keep your PAP machine clean
When’s the last time you cleaned your PAP machine? If that question made you cringe, it’s time.
Cleaning your machine not only can reduce the chances of bacteria exposure, but it also can help prevent odors, allergy or sinus issues and pneumonia. Keeping your machine clean can also ensure that it continues to work properly.
You don’t have to clean your machine and accessories every day, but cleaning them once a week is ideal. When it’s time to sanitize your PAP machine, refer to the cleaning instructions provided in your user’s manual. If you pitched it long ago, check the manufacturer’s website for maintenance tips.
If you can’t track this information down, here are some general PAP machine cleaning tips that can help.
- Start by taking your machine apart. Disconnect your mask, tubing and headgear. Also remove the tank and filters.
- Wipe down the machine’s exterior with a soft cloth and water if it’s dusty and follow up with an antibacterial wipe to kill germs.
- Fill a large bowl or tub with warm soapy water (use gentle dish soap) and soak your headgear, mask tubing and any removable seals or connectors. You can soak everything for up to 30 minutes. Be sure to swish soapy water through the tubing during the process. When you’re done, rinse everything well and allow the pieces to air dry.
- For the water tank, you can clean it with hot water and mild soap. Rinse it clean and allow it to air dry as well.
- Don’t forget to clean your filters. Some can be rinsed clean while others might need to be replaced altogether. You can refer to your user’s manual or check with your medical supply provider to see how they should be handled.
Remember, never use harsh chemicals or household cleaners to sanitize your PAP machine. Doing so can lead to lung irritation or illness and damage your equipment.