It will soon be a year since I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and started sleeping with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask on my face at night. To say I had a hard time getting used to it is putting it mildly! After the first three totally sleepless nights, I packed up the entire miserable thing and dumped it in a corner of my closet. I already had enough trouble sleeping without this additional aggravation. But, after doing some research and talking to many other CPAP users, I got the whole thing back out a few weeks later and tried again, realizing that I really was putting my health at risk by not treating my moderate sleep apnea.

During this second attempt, I did somewhat better by only wearing it a few hours each night, gradually increasing the time until I was able to tolerate it for four or five hours. It took two months until I was using it all night, every night. I cleaned the tubing, face mask and humidifier chamber with Dawn and hot water once a week as I had been instructed, and I changed the filter monthly. This went on for several months without incident until recently.

One morning I woke up and felt something under my nose that I knew didn’t belong there. I looked in the mirror and found a red, itchy, very sore, half inch long patch of irritated skin that hadn’t been there the night before. I still wore the CPAP mask that night, even though it was uncomfortable, but by the next morning tiny blisters had formed. I decided on my own to stop wearing the mask because it was just too painful, but the area still wouldn’t heal. Sometimes it would start to form a scab, but then the blisters would return and the cycle repeated itself, leaving me looking like I had something nasty hanging out of my nose! This has been going on for almost three months!

I consulted three different medical professionals before I finally found some help. I first visited my dermatologist who prescribed an ointment that didn’t help at all. Then I visited my family doctor who prescribed an antibiotic ointment that also didn’t help at all. I returned to the dermatologist who took one look at it and then said there was cancer growing there and he referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to have it removed. Needless to say, that was quite a shock, and I was not looking forward to having surgery on my upper lip.

The good news was that it was NOT cancer, but an aggressive viral infection caused by using my CPAP machine! Apparently the ENT specialist had seen this and other infections caused by bacteria and viruses in improperly cleaned CPAP machines before. She reported many patients with stubborn sinus infections and other respiratory ailments that were caused by the same thing. I was told not to use the machine (Yay!) until the viral pills and ointment had cleared the infection completely.

I have read that it is estimated that more than 30 percent of CPAP users fail to regularly clean the CPAP components. Even though I religiously cleaned mine, it was still full of critters! It’s not easy to clean the inside of more than 5 feet of half inch plastic tubing! Yeast, mold and fungus can all thrive in that moist environment.

I had seen CPAP cleaning machines advertised on social media and television commercials, and it seems that they are very popular as an effortless way to disinfect the machine, the tubing and the mask by just dropping them into a container every day and turning it on. It looked pretty simple, but the cost was more than $300, making me think twice about it. In spite of that, I started doing a bit of research into how these machines work.

The cleaning machine produces ozone to disinfect all the parts of the CPAP machine.

Wait a minute. Ozone is a toxic gas.

When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs, and even low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath and can aggravate respiratory ailments like asthma and COPD! For ozone to be effective in killing germs, it must be used in a concentrated form far greater than that which can be safely tolerated by people or animals. Ozone is naturally released into the air when there’s lightning during a thunderstorm, but that’s not in an enclosed area like a bedroom. So how do we know how much ozone is released into the air while the machine is running? Also, there needs to be a waiting period after the cleaning takes place before the CPAP machine can safely be used again. If you can still smell the ozone, you’re breathing it, and that’s never a safe thing. Some of the cleaning machines carry these warnings, but some contain no warnings at all! If there are no warnings to alert people to these dangers, it would seem that this easy cure for dirty CPAP machines brings its own set of problems!

The specialist I saw recommended daily cleaning of the tubing, humidifier chamber and face mask with a strong solution of Clorox and hot water, followed by several thorough rinses. That sounded reasonable to me, so after replacing all removable components with new ones, I’ve just started using the CPAP machine again. I have to get up a little earlier to take care of all this business every morning, but it will be worth it if I don’t have any more nasty viral outbreaks that take months to get rid of!

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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has 2 children and 5 grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder. Contact her at mbsecco@windstream.net

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