Can a CPAP Machine Kill You illustration

Can a CPAP Machine Kill You? (2024)

by | Updated: May 23, 2024

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is a common and often highly effective treatment for individuals suffering from sleep apnea, a condition characterized by periodic interruptions in breathing during sleep.

Despite its wide usage and recognized benefits, there are ongoing discussions and concerns about the potential risks and adverse effects of CPAP therapy.

This article aims to explore the question: Can a CPAP machine kill you?

By examining scientific research, medical guidelines, and expert opinion, we will delve into the potential risks associated with CPAP use, helping readers understand the balance between the therapeutic benefits and the safety of this treatment modality.

What is CPAP?

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It’s a type of therapy used primarily for treating sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

A CPAP machine works by delivering a steady stream of pressurized air into a patient’s airway to keep it open and allow for unobstructed breathing.

Can a CPAP Machine Kill You?

A CPAP machine, used properly, should not pose a lethal risk. It’s designed to treat sleep apnea, improving oxygen flow and sleep quality. However, incorrect use, ignoring maintenance, or undiagnosed conditions can potentially cause complications. As with any medical device, supervision by a healthcare professional is crucial.

Can a CPAP Machine Kill You in sleep illustration

What are the Dangers of CPAP Use?

While CPAP therapy is generally safe, it can have some potential side effects or risks:

  • Air Leaks: Air leaks can occur if the mask doesn’t fit well, leading to dry eyes or skin, and reduced therapy effectiveness.
  • Claustrophobia: Some people might feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable with the mask.
  • Skin Irritation: Improper mask fit can also cause skin irritation or pressure sores.
  • Dry Mouth or Nose: This can occur if the device isn’t properly humidified.
  • Nasal Congestion, Runny Nose or Sneezing: These are potential reactions to the airflow or the material of the mask.
  • Abdominal Bloating: Some people may swallow air, causing bloating, a condition called aerophagia.
  • Infections: Infrequent cleaning of the CPAP equipment may lead to sinus or lung infections .

Remember: It’s always important to work closely with your healthcare provider to ensure the CPAP therapy is working properly and causing minimal discomfort.

How to Avoid Infections with a CPAP Machine

Avoiding infections when using a CPAP machine involves proper and regular cleaning and maintenance.

Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Daily Cleaning: Clean the mask and air tubing in warm soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and let them air dry. Never use harsh cleaners.
  • Weekly Cleaning: Once a week, soak the mask and tubing in a solution of vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water) for a deeper clean. Rinse thoroughly and let them air dry.
  • Clean the Humidifier: If your machine has a humidifier, empty any unused water instead of letting it sit in the unit all day. Rinse out the humidifier with a gentle soap and let it air dry.
  • Regular Replacement: Masks and hoses wear out over time and can harbor bacteria. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and your healthcare provider’s advice regarding when to replace these parts.
  • Keep the Filter Clean: Check if the machine’s air filter is clean and replace it as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Avoid Sharing Equipment: Do not share your CPAP machine with anyone else to prevent cross-contamination.

Note: By following these steps, you can minimize the risk of infection associated with CPAP use. Always refer to your healthcare provider or equipment provider for specific cleaning and maintenance instructions.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.

There are two primary types:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This is the more common form, where the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. Snoring is a common symptom of OSA.
  2. Central sleep apnea (CSA): This type involves the brain failing to send proper signals to the muscles controlling breathing, resulting in a person not making an effort to breathe for brief periods.

Individuals with untreated sleep apnea may stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, potentially hundreds of times. This means the brain, and the rest of the body, may not get enough oxygen.

It can lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cognitive difficulties, and mood disorders.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of sleep apnea often involves multiple steps:

  • Medical History: Your healthcare provider will ask about your sleep habits, daytime fatigue, and any instances of snoring or breathing interruptions during sleep.
  • Physical Examination: This may include checking your mouth, nose, and throat for enlarged or extra tissues. Blood tests may be done to check for conditions like hypothyroidism or hypogonadism.
  • Sleep Study (Polysomnography):  This is the most accurate test for sleep apnea . It involves an overnight stay at a sleep center where various physiological parameters like brain waves, heart rate, breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and body movements are monitored while you sleep.
  • Home Sleep Tests: In some cases, your doctor might provide you with simplified tests to be used at home. These tests usually measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns.
  • Evaluation by a Sleep Specialist: If your results are abnormal, you might be referred to a sleep specialist to discuss treatment options.

Note: Diagnosis is essential because untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and worsening of ADHD.

Treatment

Treatment for sleep apnea can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the specific needs of the patient.

Here are some common treatment options:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Weight loss if overweight, regular exercise, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and adjusting sleep positions can sometimes alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy: This is the most common treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep, keeping your airway open.
  • Oral Appliances: These devices, similar to mouth guards, help keep the throat open by bringing the jaw forward. They can be effective for some people with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
  • Surgery: Various surgical procedures can be used to remove excess tissue in the throat, correct nasal problems, reposition the jaw, or implant plastic rods into the soft palate.
  • Positional Therapy: For some, symptoms are worse when sleeping on the back. In such cases, devices or techniques to encourage side sleeping may be beneficial.
  • Nerve Stimulators: Recently, devices that stimulate the hypoglossal nerve (which controls tongue movements) have been approved. These help to keep the airway open without the need for a mask or oral appliance.
  • Medications: Although not as effective as other treatments, certain medications can help people with a specific type of sleep apnea (central sleep apnea).

Remember: The best treatment depends on the underlying cause of sleep apnea, the severity of the condition, and the individual’s personal health, comfort, and lifestyle needs. Ongoing care and follow-up with a healthcare provider are crucial to successful treatment.

Can You Die from Sleep Apnea?

While it’s unlikely for someone to die directly from sleep apnea, the disorder can significantly contribute to serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which can increase the risk of premature death. Regular treatment and medical supervision are vital for managing sleep apnea.

What Happens if Sleep Apnea is Left Untreated?

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to several serious health complications. These include:

  • Heart Problems: Sleep apnea is associated with a higher risk of heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Sleep apnea increases the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Liver Problems: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, liver scarring, and higher-than-normal liver enzyme levels are more common in people with sleep apnea.
  • Sleep-Deprived Partners: Snoring associated with sleep apnea can disturb the sleep of those around you.
  • Daytime Fatigue: The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible, leading to severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability.
  • Complications with Medications and Surgery: Sleep apnea can also cause complications with certain medications and during surgery, as sedatives and anesthesia can worsen apnea events.
  • Poor Quality of Life: Issues like fatigue, drowsiness, and lack of concentration can impact work performance, cognitive function, and social interactions, reducing the overall quality of life.

Note: Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnea are essential to prevent these potential complications.

Who Should Not Use CPAP?

While CPAP is a widely used and effective treatment for sleep apnea, it’s not suitable for everyone.

Certain individuals who might not be suitable for CPAP use include:

  • People with certain pre-existing conditions: Those with conditions like severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a history of pneumothorax, certain types of heart failure, or severe sinus issues may not tolerate CPAP well.
  • People with claustrophobia or anxiety disorders: The mask and sensation of forced air can make some people feel confined or anxious, particularly those with claustrophobia or certain anxiety disorders.
  • Children: While CPAP can be used in children in some cases, it must be done under careful medical supervision due to differences in facial structure and pressure requirements.
  • People who are non-compliant: CPAP only works if it’s used consistently. Some people find it uncomfortable or difficult to use, leading to non-compliance.
  • People with a deviated nasal septum or nasal obstruction: These conditions can make CPAP use more difficult and less effective, though in some cases, surgical correction may make CPAP use possible afterward.

Note: Always consult with a healthcare professional to determine if CPAP therapy is appropriate for your specific circumstances. There may be alternative treatments if CPAP is not suitable.

FAQs About Dying from CPAP

Can CPAP Weaken the Lungs?

CPAP therapy does not weaken the lungs. On the contrary, it aids in maintaining an open airway, which can enhance oxygenation and overall lung health.

However, if the pressure settings are too high, it can cause discomfort or breathing difficulty. Always use CPAP under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Does CPAP Cause Heart Problems?

CPAP therapy is often used to reduce the risk of heart problems in individuals with sleep apnea, such as hypertension and heart disease.

There’s no evidence to suggest that CPAP causes heart problems. In fact, effective CPAP use can decrease the likelihood of cardiovascular complications associated with sleep apnea.

What is the Survival Rate of CPAP?

“Survival rate” typically refers to the prognosis of diseases, not treatment modalities like CPAP.

However, studies have shown that consistent CPAP use can significantly improve the quality of life and potentially extend life expectancy by mitigating severe complications of untreated sleep apnea, such as heart disease or stroke.

What are the Negative Effects of Using a CPAP Machine?

Possible side effects of CPAP use can include skin irritation from the mask, dry mouth, nasal congestion, claustrophobia, and eye irritation if the mask leaks.

Most side effects can be managed by adjusting mask fit, humidity settings, and discussing any issues with your healthcare provider.

Can You Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from a CPAP Machine?

A CPAP machine does not produce carbon monoxide and, when used properly, should not expose users to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

However, if the air being supplied to the machine is contaminated with carbon monoxide (for example, from smoking or use of a gas heater in a poorly ventilated room), it could potentially deliver this contaminated air to the user.

Proper ventilation in the room where CPAP is used is important.

Can a CPAP Machine Hurt Your Eyes?

While CPAP itself doesn’t directly harm the eyes, poorly fitted masks may lead to air leakage towards the eyes, which can cause dryness, irritation, or conjunctivitis.

Regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider to ensure proper mask fitting can prevent this issue.

Can You Suffocate from Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can cause repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the airway during sleep, leading to drops in oxygen levels.

While it’s rare to suffocate from sleep apnea, the condition can cause severe health complications, such as heart disease and stroke, if left untreated.

Can You Suffocate from a CPAP Machine?

CPAP machines are designed with safety mechanisms to prevent suffocation. If you stop breathing or the machine fails, most modern devices have vented masks that allow you to breathe room air.

Nonetheless, proper use and regular maintenance of the machine are essential.

How Many People Have Died from CPAP?

There are no established statistics or research indicating that people have died directly from CPAP use.

The primary risks associated with CPAP involve minor side effects, while the device itself is intended to prevent the serious health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea.

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Linked to a Higher Risk of Death?

Yes, untreated obstructive sleep apnea is linked to a higher risk of death, primarily due to its association with conditions like heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Regular treatment and medical supervision significantly reduce this risk.

Is it Dangerous to Stop Using CPAP?

Yes, it can be dangerous to stop using CPAP without discussing it with your healthcare provider.

CPAP therapy is used to maintain an open airway during sleep, and stopping treatment can lead to a return of apnea episodes and associated symptoms, increasing the risk of severe health complications.

Final Thoughts

A CPAP machine, when used appropriately and under medical supervision, is not a lethal device. Rather, it is a life-enhancing tool that significantly mitigates the health risks posed by sleep apnea, such as heart disease, stroke, and excessive daytime fatigue.

Nonetheless, like any medical treatment, CPAP therapy carries some potential risks, mainly related to incorrect usage or lack of maintenance.

Understanding these risks and adhering to prescribed guidelines can ensure patients enjoy the benefits of CPAP therapy while minimizing adverse effects.

As always, any concerns should be promptly addressed with healthcare providers to ensure optimal treatment outcomes.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.

References

  • Pépin JL, Bailly S, Rinder P, Adler D, Benjafield AV, Lavergne F, Josseran A, Sinel-Boucher P, Tamisier R, Cistulli PA, Malhotra A, Hornus P; medXcloud Group. Relationship Between CPAP Termination and All-Cause Mortality: A French Nationwide Database Analysis. Chest. 2022 Jun.
  • Cumpston E, Chen P. Sleep Apnea Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Nov 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
  • Avlonitou E, Kapsimalis F, Varouchakis G, Vardavas CI, Behrakis P. Adherence to CPAP therapy improves quality of life and reduces symptoms among obstructive sleep apnea syndrome patients. Sleep Breath. 2012 Jun.

Recommended Reading