The Why and How of CPAP Device Maintenance
When it comes to managing your sleep apnea, devices like the Philips Respironics DreamStation will go a long way in helping you get a good night’s rest. Today’s CPAP devices are smaller and lighter-weight than ever before, making it easier for those who suffer from sleep apnea to use and transport these valuable medical machines.
Of course, as helpful as a CPAP device may be, it still requires its fair share of maintenance. By providing proper care to your device, you can have confidence that it will continue to function properly for many years, allowing you to enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
Here’s a closer look at what you need to do to care for your CPAP devices.
How Do CPAP Devices Help With Sleep Apnea?
First, it never hurts to have a reminder as to why CPAP devices are so important in the first place. These machines are designed to address obstructive sleep apnea by increasing the air pressure in your throat. By providing continuous air pressure, your throat won’t collapse while you sleep, which results in a temporary stoppage of breathing.
When you order a quality CPAP device, you will need more than just the machine itself — you will rely on the tubing and mask needed to deliver the air pressure to your lungs. There are three types of masks that can be used with your CPAP device, depending on your sleep positions and comfort with each mask option. Many devices also come with a humidifier to help alleviate potential side effects such as dry nose or sore throat.
Sleep apnea may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it can actually contribute to a wide range of serious health complications, including heart attack and type 2 diabetes. Keeping your device in proper working condition isn’t just going to save you money — it could also help save your life.
Following Usage Recommendations
The first step in keeping your CPAP device in good condition is to follow the recommended usage instructions as found in your owner’s manual. For example, because the CPAP device is providing a steady flow of oxygen (which is combustible), it should never be used near an open flame or while smoking, as this could spark a fire.
Certain conditions can also cause the unit to overheat, and should be avoided. For example, using your CPAP device when the temperature in your room exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit could actually result in injury to your airways due to the even higher temperature of the oxygen provided by the machine. Similarly, devices should be kept out of direct sunlight to keep them from overheating.
Because the some CPAP machinery uses a Bluetooth device to record breathing data, it should also be kept at least six inches away from pacemakers at all times, as the Bluetooth signal could disrupt the pacemaker’s operation. A similar gap should be maintained between the system’s air filter and any object that might block the free flow of air — including the bed.
Proper mask fit is another crucial consideration, as this ensures you are receiving enough air pressure to prevent episodes of sleep apnea during the night. For example, the Philips Respironics DreamStation’s smart technology allows you to check your mask fit by conducting a pressure test. This test will detect any leaks from the mask, and will inform you whether you need to make adjustments to the fit before starting normal therapy. These 40-second tests are especially helpful after you get a new mask.
Make sure that the tubing type setting you’ve selected on your CPAP machine matches the size of tubing that you are currently using. Otherwise, the air pressure will be too low or too high for comfortable breathing.
Though optional, humidifiers are frequently used by those who rely on CPAP devices to regulate their sleep apnea thanks to the improved comfort they provide. When filling the humidifier’s water chamber at night, make sure that the water chamber is filled to the “maximum fill line.” This way, you will have enough water to last through the night under normal usage conditions. Be careful to avoid overfilling the water chamber so you don’t spill excess water onto your furniture.
Having an extensive list of do’s and don’ts before you even use your CPAP device may seem excessive, but these practices will go a long way in keeping your device functioning properly and even helping you avoid injury as you try to address your sleep apnea.
Without a doubt, cleaning your CPAP device is one of the most important things you can do to keep it functioning properly. In fact, cleaning your CPAP device will require daily work. Without consistent cleaning, the moisture produced during the operation of your CPAP device can quickly lead to the buildup of mold and other bacteria in the system’s tubes, water tanks, and filters.
This bacterial growth is easily spotted, as it often forms a green slime. Even before you check the device itself, you may experience a wide range of respiratory issues, such as lung irritation, a sore throat, sneezing and a runny nose, and coughing. Most of the time, you will feel like you have a cold, but you could end up feeling even worse if the problem is allowed to persist.
To avoid these issues, you should clean the CPAP device’s mask and tubing every day, washing them with a mixture of warm water and either dish soap or distilled vinegar. You should never use cleaning products that contain bleach, alcohol, or moisturizers, as this could damage the tubing and keep it from providing the necessary air pressure during operation. Avoid using extremely hot water, as this could also cause deterioration of the tubing.
To wash your tubing and mask, fully disconnect them from the CPAP device to avoid causing any accidental damage to the electronic components. Soak these components in the water/soap mixture for half an hour, then use a fine-bristled brush to clean off any debris or buildup. The water chamber should be cleaned in a similar fashion, with all parts being allowed to air dry. Be sure to hang the tubing in a way so that water will not be trapped inside (hanging it over a towel rack or shower curtain rod is typically your best option).
Though your mask’s headgear and chinstraps won’t need to be washed on a daily basis, they should still be cleaned consistently, as they will absorb sweat and other oils from your skin. As with other CPAP components, using a mix of warm water and mild antibacterial soap is your best option. Headgear and chinstraps should be washed by hand and air dried, rather than being tossed into a load of laundry, as the rougher tumbling of laundry cycles could damage these parts.
The only real cleaning the “machine” part of your CPAP device will need is to be periodically wiped down with a damp cloth (you can also use a mild cleaning detergent if necessary). Be sure to unplug the CPAP machine during cleaning to prevent the possibility of an electric shock.
Cleaning recommendations for filters will generally vary by device. As such, you should always refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions. For example, the Philips Respironics DreamStation utilizes a reusable blue pollen filter, as well as an “ultra-fine filter” that is light blue in color. While the blue pollen filter should be cleaned every two weeks, the ultra-fine filter is not reusable, and should instead by disposed of after 30 days or when it appears excessively dirty.
To clean the Philips Respironics DreamStation’s blue pollen filter, users should first turn off and disconnect the device, and then remove the filter via the filter access door. The reusable filter should then be washed upside down under warm tap water. Letting water run through the filter’s white section will ensure that debris is effectively washed away.
No soap or specialized cleaners should be used when rinsing the reusable blue filter. After rinsing the filter, simply shake it out to remove excess water and let it completely air dry prior to placing it back in the CPAP device. During this process, you should also inspect the filter for any signs of visible damage or excess wear and tear, which would indicate that a replacement is needed.
Know When to Replace Components
Though consistent cleaning will go a long way in ensuring quality performance from your machine, no CPAP device will last forever. CPAP devices will typically have some type of warranty coverage that may last for two to five years, though the machines themselves often operate efficiently for up to seven years.
When it comes to the smaller components connected to the CPAP device — most notably, the parts that you need to clean regularly — part replacements will need to be done on a far more frequent basis. Filters, tubing, masks, and even water tanks will need to be replaced several times during the lifespan of the CPAP device to ensure consistent, quality performance that addresses your sleep apnea.
So how often do different components need to be replaced? Once again, exact specifications will likely vary based on the specific model of CPAP device you use. For example, while the Philips Respironics DreamStation’s ultra-fine filter needs to be replaced every 30 days, the reusable blue pollen filter typically only needs to be replaced every six months (as long as the proper cleaning schedule is being followed).
Despite your best cleaning efforts, the tubing and mask — and even the chinstraps and headgear — will wear down over time, making it easier for bacteria to accumulate. The hard CPAP mask and tubing should generally be replaced every three to six months. Users should inspect these components for discoloration (which can indicate bacterial growth), or cracks (which contribute to air leaks).
Even when your CPAP mask appears to be in good shape, you should continue to perform air pressure tests on a periodic basis. The oils in your skin will actually cause the mask’s plastic cushion to become softer over time, making it more difficult to maintain a tight seal against your face.
Some mask components may need to be replaced even more frequently. In fact, it is often recommended that nasal pillows (the mask component that is inserted directly into the nostrils) be replaced one to two times per month.
Other components will last a bit longer. The humidifier water chamber will usually last for six months or more. Users should inspect this part periodically for cracks or discoloration, which indicate trapped bacteria. When such issues occur, replace the water chamber to prevent illness.
Headgear and chinstraps can also last for several months, but over time, they will lose some of the elasticity that helps them keep your CPAP mask strapped tightly to your head. This can also impact your overall comfort when using the device. Replacing these parts as needed will make its easier to enjoy a sound night’s sleep when using your CPAP device.
Frequently changing individual components may not seem ideal — after all, these replacement parts cost money! But by following these recommended guidelines, you can avoid bacterial infections and ensure that you receive the continuous air pressure needed to improve your nighttime breathing. Replacement bundles are readily available for most CPAP brands to help you save money and stay on schedule with part replacements.
While CPAP devices require consistent cleaning and routine replacement of some of the attachments, one convenient aspect is that they do not require any professional maintenance to continue operating properly. You can typically expect your CPAP device to operate like it should throughout its expected lifespan.
Of course, this is no guarantee that you will never experience trouble using your device. For example, users will sometimes hear what sounds like a leak coming from the CPAP device itself. This could be the result of an obstructed air inlet, a clogged filter, or a tube that was not properly connected. In some cases, a humidifier that was not properly sealed could be contributing to the problem.
If the airflow coming from your CPAP device feels unusually warm, a dirty air filter could be to blame — or you might be operating the device in hotter-than-recommended conditions. Checking the air filter and ambient temperature will typically be enough to solve this problem.
If your troubleshooting efforts aren’t enough to achieve normal performance, you should contact the manufacturer for additional support. Though rare, these issues could include the device airflow not turning on, even when the CPAP machine is powered on and you have activated the therapy settings.
Be mindful that some issues could indicate a potentially dangerous malfunction. For example, you should not use a CPAP device that starts making unusually loud or harsh sounds after being dropped, or a device that had water spilled into its enclosure. When such damage occurs, you will likely need to replace the unit.
Don’t attempt to complete repairs on your own, as this could invalidate your warranty or result in additional damage to the device. Instead, contact the manufacturer, who will be able to provide reliable information regarding what to do next. Their technicians will be best equipped to repair your unit (if possible) and help you navigate your warranty claim.
Not as Hard as it Sounds
After reading through this article, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at just how much care it seems is needed to keep your CPAP devices working like they should.
The good news is that it isn’t as complex as it might first appear. Yes, adapting to a daily cleaning routine will likely require some alterations to your normal schedule, but the cleaning itself is quite straightforward and you don’t need any specialized cleaners.
Remembering when to replace the various components of your CPAP device may seem hard, but the many modern devices use a touchscreen display and internal tracking mechanisms that will actually remind you when you need to replace or inspect certain components — and as previously mentioned, buying replacement part bundles will make it easy to get everything you need all in one go.
Finally, most CPAP users will never have to deal with the troubleshooting issues described above. CPAP devices don’t typically require service because such malfunctions are rare, especially if you keep the device safely on your nightstand, where it is unlikely to be dropped or otherwise damaged.
Remember, the ultimate outcome of using a CPAP device — managing your sleep apnea symptoms so you can improve sleep quality — far outweighs any potential inconveniences that may arise from using the equipment. With better sleep, you will have more energy for your activities during the day. You will avoid the irritability and headaches that so often come with fatigue. And you will be able to rest easy knowing that you are taking a key step to mitigate more serious conditions like high blood pressure and depression.
Have more questions about what maintenance will be needed for your CPAP device? Our highly trained staff is always ready to answer your questions regarding device care and maintenance so you can make an informed decision as you manage your sleep apnea.