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Is A CPAP Humidifier Necessary?

When purchasing a new CPAP machine, as a patient you cannot help but wonder what the essential parts are, and do you really need to pay extra for a machine with a humidifier. Sure, you may want your machine to function with as few parts as possible, but the necessity of a humidifier shouldn’t come into question.

Why, you wonder; well, let’s just say that without a humidifier, you might as well stop using your CPAP machine because the answer lies ineffectiveness. So, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at why it is necessary to have a CPAP humidifier, and in which cases you can go without it. Let’s get started!

What Is A CPAP Humidifier?

Is A CPAP Humidifier Necessary

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CPAP machines can feature a humidifier, but they don’t have to. Patients always have the option to purchase a humidifier attachment, which does imply that having a humidifier isn’t necessary or essential. However, a CPAP humidifier is a small device designed to improve the effectiveness of your CPAP machine and the overall therapy. It provides immediate relief in breathing and gets rid of numerous discomforts that come with the use of CPAP.

The CPAP humidifiers are designed to regulate the moisture of the air that you’re breathing. With that, they also prevents numerous side effects that appear in people who avoid using a humidifier. Humidifiers are also designed to be easily handled and used; usually, all you need to do is adjust the settings (via dial or button) to your preferences and enjoy the immediate relief.

Types Of CPAP Humidifiers

CPAP humidifiers come in different forms and shapes, each designed to fit the needs and preferences of the patients. Here are the main types of CPAP humidifiers;

  • Built-in humidifiers – these humidifiers come already integrated within the CPAP machine. The humidifier chamber can be removed from the machine to be cleaned, and then re-attached again. If you don’t have a lot of space at your disposal, and you don’t want more hassle around your CPAP machine than is needed, then CPAP machines with built-in humidifiers are for you.
  • Stand-alone humidifiers – these humidifiers are designed to work with different CPAP machines. They have their own power cords and a connective tube, to ensure a better fit for your CPAP machine.
  • Integrated humidifiers – these humidifiers are designed to only fit specific CPAP machines. They cannot be attached to a CPAP machine that has a built-in humidifier or water chamber.
  • Heated humidifiers – these humidifiers heat the tubing system to provide warm moisture to the air you breathe. A heated humidifier doesn’t change the temperature of the water in the chamber, but only the temperature and humidity of the air. Patients over the age of 60 are 5 times more likely to need a heated humidifier for their therapy.
  • Passover humidifiers – these humidifiers provide humid air by using the water from the water chamber to add moisture. There is no heating with a Passover humidifier, only cooling of the air using the room temperature water. Passover humidifiers are larger than the other, regular units.
How CPAP Humidifiers Improve Your CPAP Therapy

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Advantages Of Using A CPAP Humidifier

To understand why it is better to use a humidifier than to go without it, we need to take a look at all the advantages and issues that a humidifier solves;

  • Prevents nasal congestion and irritation – without a humidifier, the air from the CPAP machine is dry and more likely to carry dirt, bacteria, and other harmful particles. This often results in you breathing dry and contaminated air, which leads to congestion, irritation, dryness, and burning of the nasal passages. Often, there can also be nosebleeds and persistently runny nose. Therefore, with a humidifier, you can say goodbye to congestion and nasal issues, for good.
  • Prevents sinus and throat infection – because dry air tends to cause irritation, sinus inflammation and throat infections occur frequently with CPAPs without a humidifier. The air you breathe from the CPAP needs some humidity to resemble the natural air, and that is what a humidifier helps to achieve.
  • Prevents dry mouth – breathing dry air during CPAP therapy can dry your mouth completely. This can lead to a weird taste in the mouth, as well as scratchy throat and throat infection. Humidity in the air can prevent these things from happening.
  • Other things a humidifier can prevent; sneezing, mucus, swelling of the throat and nasal passages, stuffiness, frequent and persistent cold symptoms, season allergy discomfort, etc.

Note: With or without a humidifier, if your CPAP mask doesn’t adequately fit your face than the air won’t do much. It is essential to use a full face mask in cases of stuffiness and congestion so that you can breathe through the mouth instead of the nose. On the other hand, if you experience dry mouth and frequent throat infections, consider using a nasal mask.

Disadvantages Of Using A CPAP Humidifier

A CPAP humidifier requires regular cleaning because otherwise, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, microorganisms, mold, and other harmful particles. This can result in you breathing contaminated air, which can contribute to all of the infections and inflammations a humidifier would otherwise prevent. For example, a dirty humidifier can cause;

  • Pneumonia – a dirty humidifier can increase the risk of developing pneumonia, due to the air contaminated by bacteria. The contaminated air firstly enters the airway system, infects it, and then the infection continues into the lungs, causing pneumonia and the accompanying symptoms.
  • Pneumonitis – a dirty humidifier can also result in an immunological disease known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This disease is caused by the bacteria from the contaminated air, usually a result of a dirty humidifier and dirty tubing. The disease manifests as inflammation of lung tissue, which can be potentially fatal.
  • Asthma attacks – patients who have sleep apnea together with asthma can experience frequent asthma attacks if they use a dirty CPAP humidifier. Contaminated air from the humidifier can trigger asthma attacks and frequent asthma symptoms.

So, we can conclude that CPAP humidifiers require regular cleaning. This can be an additional obligation for sleep apnea patients, who may find it annoying and too much of a hassle. For older sleep apnea patients, this can especially present a problem.

Note: a CPAP humidifier and the water chamber need to be emptied every single day and washed thoroughly for the next therapy session. The water chamber needs to be replaced every 6 months. Without cleaning, patients risk developing numerous health issues and risk the function and durability of the whole CPAP machine.

Who Should Use A CPAP Humidifier?

Here’s a quick list of all the people who should find a CPAP humidifier necessary;

  • Elderly patients, or patients over the age of 60
  • Patients using prescription medications
  • Patients with a chronic mucosal disease
  • Patients with persistent cold symptoms, sneezing, or postnasal drip
  • Patients who had their uvula removed
  • Patients who experience stuffiness, dry mouth, runny and stuffy nose as a result of CPAP therapy
  • Patients who prefer to sleep in a cooler bedroom (due to condensation)

Who Should NOT Use A CPAP Humidifier?

  • Patients who travel frequently, and use a travel-friendly, or portable CPAP devices
  • Patients who already live in a humid environment
  • Patients who are long-term CPAP users
  • Patients who do not experience mucosal issues, or don’t have allergies

How Should You Take Care Of Your CPAP Humidifier?

Here are some tips and recommendations to help you take care of your CPAP humidifier and prevent it from causing health issues;

  • Clean it regularly – to prevent your humidifier from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, make sure to clean it regularly. You can use CPAP cleaner devices, or you can wash the humidifier in warm and soapy water. If you wash the unit manually, make sure to rinse it out thoroughly and let it air dry. Your humidifier should be cleaned after every therapy session.
  • Fill it with water – in order for the humidifier function properly, and last through the night, you need to refill it regularly with distilled, sterile, or bottled water. If your humidifier uses the water up before the therapy ends, make sure to lower the heating settings.
  • Don’t use the leftover water – after you’re done with the therapy, make sure to empty the leftover water. This routine will ensure you remove the possibly contaminated water from the chamber and prevent it from contaminating the humidifier and the rest of the equipment.

So, Is A CPAP Humidifier Necessary?

We most definitely think it is. Unless you already live in a humid area, and you generally don’t require a humidifier, we recommend you use one. CPAP humidifiers provide relief, prevent health issues, and make CPAP therapy more effective.

Nightly heated humidification is the most effective way to treat your sleep apnea and breathing issues. The reason for this is that humidity keeps your nasal passages and throat moist and prevents drying out, irritation, and infection.

Prior to getting your CPAP prescription, make sure to discuss the humidifier options with your doctor, and whether you need one in the first place. Even though we think humidifiers are always a better option, maybe your current circumstances won’t require one. Either way, your doctor should be able to inform you better on these issues and address your concerns.

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Monday 25th of July 2022

Lots of good information pertaining to use and cleaning of CPAP parts and how often to do. Definitely want sanitized. I made notes reading this important information.