Image: Do CPAP machines cause lung problems

A poorly maintained CPAP machine doesn’t only wreak havoc on your skin. Instead, it can go beyond simple acne and affect your health.

Because as it turns out, breathing in organisms that grew out of a dirty CPAP mask can also increase your risk of developing some lung conditions.

Lately, there have been growing concerns over the side effects of a CPAP machine and whether it can cause lung problems to its users. These recent questions are raised mainly due to the latest Philips CPAP recall. To this day, users of the recalled devices are left hanging as they wait for a replacement of a machine they can’t last long without.

Several affected patients have already filed CPAP lawsuits after suffering from lung problems following the use of the recalled devices.

Now more than ever, it’s important for you to know how a CPAP machine can potentially cause lung problems. Read the article to learn more.

Lung Problems Related to Negligent CPAP Use

A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is currently the gold standard in the treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and other sleep-related breathing conditions.

And while CPAP therapy is currently the best treatment option for sleep apnea patients, its side effects are not unheard of.

Aside from its most common side effects, however, questions about its potential effect on the lungs are on the rise. Although considered rare, there are lung problems potentially linked to CPAP use, including:

  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumonitis
  • Reactive airway disease


If you have sleep apnea, it’s also likely that you have asthma. Having both conditions is quite common.

In a 2016 study, 58% of people with moderate asthma also had sleep apnea, as did 88% of people who have severe asthma.

And although CPAP treatment can help relieve asthma symptoms, ironically, it can also trigger the condition.

If you have asthma, inhaling any organisms that may contaminate your dirty CPAP equipment may trigger asthma symptoms and even attacks.


Many CPAP users, especially those who are beginners with the therapy, have problems with coughing.

One potential reason for this is you don’t have enough humidity for the air you’re breathing in. And when the air from your CPAP is too dry and it enters your airways, it can dry out your mouth, nasal passages, and your throat.

This can irritate your tissues and therefore cause a cough. Luckily for you, the trick is quite simple. If you have a CPAP humidifier, you have to turn it on.

It is important to note, however, that increasing the level of humidity will not automatically solve your coughing. You have to find the level of humidity that’s right for you.

It will mainly depend on how humid your environment is. However, if adjusting the humidity setting of your CPAP doesn’t help with your cough, you may need to consult with your doctor.

Difficulty Breathing

A more common CPAP side effect is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Although it may be easy to breathe in, you may experience some discomfort in breathing out against the air pressure.

This may improve as you get used to the device, but the effort may also cause you to suffer from insomnia. In some cases, it may be necessary to reduce your CPAP pressure. In rare instances, your sleep specialist may recommend that you switch to a BiPAP machine. It is a small breathing device in which one pressure is used for inhalation, and a lower pressure is used for exhalation.

It is important to note that you should never try to adjust your CPAP pressure settings on your own. If you feel as if the pressure on your device needs adjusting, consult your sleep doctor.


Perhaps the most serious lung condition that can potentially affect CPAP users is pneumonia. Growing evidence suggests that sleep apnea patients may be at an increased risk of developing pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames your air sacs or alveoli in one or both lungs. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing

A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) examined the incidence of pneumonia in more than 34,000 patients who were divided into two groups: the CPAP users and the control group.

The researchers found that CPAP users were 32% more likely to develop pneumonia compared to the control group. Sleep apnea sufferers who didn’t use CPAP machines also had a higher risk compared to the general population.

Furthermore, the study indicated that the combination of having OSA and using a CPAP machine can result in a greater likelihood of contracting pneumonia overall.

Researchers speculate that the increased risk could be because of a greater potential for the aspiration of liquid and other contents that may contain bacteria. This can therefore cause lung infections, including pneumonia.

Moreover, the authors also note that the interruptions in sleep that often happens to patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may adversely affect a patient’s immune system. In general, a weakened immune defense can make a patient more vulnerable to different types of lung infections.


Pneumonitis refers to inflammation of lung tissue. It is an allergic reaction that happens when substances like dust, mold, and bacteria irritate the air sacs in your lungs.

It is another potentially serious lung complication that can result from poorly maintained CPAP equipment.

Some of its most common symptoms are:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss

If left untreated, pneumonitis can cause irreversible lung damage. It can also result in even more complications, like heart failure, among others.

Reactive Airway Disease

Reactive airway disease (RAD) is a term that’s often used to describe symptoms that may or may not be caused by asthma.

The term is also commonly used to describe individuals who have a history of wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath caused by infection.

In RAD, the bronchial tubes in your lungs overreact to an irritant, swell, and therefore cause breathing problems. It is another condition that can result from breathing in organisms like mold that can form out of an unclean CPAP device.

Avoiding Lung Problems While on CPAP Therapy

Some of the abovementioned lung conditions can potentially occur when you don’t take proper care of your CPAP machine. In rare cases, not adequately sanitizing your device may result in serious health problems.

But you don’t have to let these possible risks stop you from having a successful CPAP treatment. There are a couple of easy ways you can do to keep your equipment clean and therefore free from potential health risks.

How To Care For Your CPAP Equipment

The best way to avoid pneumonia and other potentially serious lung problems while using a CPAP device is to make sure that it’s clean and in good shape.

Some general instructions in cleaning your CPAP machine include:

  • Before you disassemble any parts of your CPAP machine, make sure that it’s not connected to any power source.
  • Before cleaning, you should also disconnect the air hose and tubing from both the CPAP mask and the machine. If you use a humidifier, remove the water tank and set it aside.
  • Most CPAP masks have three parts — the cushion, headgear, and frame. You can separate these components for easier cleaning and drying.
  • You can wash most tubing with warm, soapy water. The inside of the tubing should also be cleaned. Make sure to submerge it in the water long enough that it fills up with soapy water inside.
  • Some hoses can be cleaned in the same way as tubing. However, if you use a heated hose, you might want to check the manufacturer’s directions on your manual for more information on how to clean it.
  • You can clean each part of your CPAP mask separately with mild soap. The headgear and cushion mostly contain our bodily oils. These oils can attract bacteria, so make sure these parts are completely oil-free.
  • Humidifier tanks can be cleaned with equal parts warm water and white vinegar. This can be left soaked in the vinegar while you clean the rest of your CPAP components.
  • All CPAP parts should be rinsed with cool and clean water. Double-check that all components are free from soap or soap bubbles before drying them.
  • Once your components are rinsed and clean, place them on a clean towel to air-dry.

The Bottom Line

With the recent recall on Philips CPAP devices, more questions are being raised about the safety of CPAP machines. Some studies also link the devices to an increased risk of developing lung problems, including pneumonia.

Although considered rare, you can still be at risk of these lung conditions, especially if you neglect to clean your CPAP machine.

If you’re unsure where to start, you can always refer to your device’s user manual. There are also general instructions on this article for you to refer to in taking care of your equipment.

Being committed to keeping your device clean can also be the key to having a successful CPAP therapy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.