Why You Shouldn’t Use Tap Water For Your CPAP Machine
Many people can’t imagine using their CPAP machine without a humidifier — and for good reason. By adding moisture to the air that is delivered by your CPAP machine, you can enjoy more comfortable nighttime breathing. You will also be less likely to suffer from common side effects such as a dry, scratchy throat.
But if you use the wrong water — particularly tap water — you might be putting your health at risk. As new research illustrates, the recommendations to use distilled water are given for good reason.
New CDC Research Highlights Tap Water Concerns
A recent research article from the CDC took a closer look at the potentially harmful microorganisms that exist in tap water, as well as attitudes toward using tap water for CPAP machines and other medical devices. As the researchers explained, microorganisms such as Legionella spp., Pseudomonas spp., and nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are often present in low levels in tap water that don’t affect its safety for drinking and cooking. At these lower levels, any microbes are quickly killed by stomach acid. However, they still pose a risk when the water is used for “aerosolized inhalation” — such as using a CPAP humidifier.
Notably, inhalation of these pathogens contribute to 120,000 hospitalizations and 7,000 deaths from waterborne diseases each year. Despite this, many people don’t realize that such microbes are present in the water, with the study’s survey finding that 24 percent used tap water to fill their CPAP machine or humidifier.
For CPAP users, the risk occurs because the humidifier aerosolizes the water, allowing any microbes present to reach your respiratory system — something that doesn’t happen when drinking tap water. Infections from the microbes in tap water can lead to pneumonia-like symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain.
The Benefits of Distilled Water
Due to these findings, it is strongly advised that all CPAP users only use distilled water for their devices. Distillation is a process that boils water to separate it from its contaminants. As the water boils, it produces pure steam, which is then captured and cooled so it can return to its liquid form. Going through the distillation process separates the water from inorganic minerals, as well as bacteria and pathogens such as those highlighted by the CDC study.
If bottled water is labelled as “distilled,” it must go through this process that ensures it contains only pure water, free of all other materials. This water is often labeled specifically for the use of CPAP machines, humidifiers, and other similar devices. The removal of pathogens makes the water safe for use, while removing mineral content will prevent the formation of mineral deposits in the water chamber.
It is important to note that distilled water is different from filtered water. Distilled water has removed all impurities from the water, including healthy minerals. Filtered or “purified” water typically still contains trace amounts of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Though good for drinking, this can lead to buildup or deposits when used for a CPAP water chamber.
You don’t necessarily have to use bottled distilled water to reduce your risk of illness. According to CDC guidelines, you can make tap water safe for CPAP machines and other medical purposes by boiling it for five minutes. Let the water cool before adding it to the CPAP humidifier chamber.
Boiling tap water at home will kill any microbes or pathogens present in the water — though it won’t necessarily remove any excess mineral content. While mineral deposits may still occur, particularly in areas with hard water, you should be at less risk of mold growth in the water chamber.
The Importance of Humidifier Cleaning
In addition to using distilled or sanitized water, you can reduce your risk for illness and extend the life of your CPAP machine by regularly cleaning the humidifier water chamber. Even when using distilled water, consistent cleaning will help prevent harmful buildup.
Each day after using the humidifier, you should disconnect the water chamber from your CPAP machine and wash it with warm water and mild soap. Do not use stronger detergents, which can leave residue or damage the tub. After washing, rinse the water chamber with clean, warm water and place it on a towel to air dry.
Once per week, it is recommended that you put the humidifier water chamber through a more intensive disinfection process by soaking it in a water and white vinegar solution for 15 to 20 minutes. This solution should be equal parts water and vinegar. After the soaking is complete, rinse the water chamber with warm water and let it air dry.
Always have the water chamber air dry away from direct sunlight, as this could damage the plastic. The water chamber should be replaced if it becomes cracked or discolored, as this could result in excess bacteria buildup.
Use Distilled Water With Your CPAP Machine!
Whether you prefer to boil your tap water or purchase distilled water for CPAP machines, the fact remains that you should avoid using water straight from the tap. Even though it may be more convenient, the risk for illness makes this a practice well worth avoiding. Using distilled water will ensure that you stay healthy as you use your CPAP machine to sleep better.
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