For the more than 8 million Americans who use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, there may be bad news. Experts are warning that using a CPAP machine during the COVID-19 epidemic may make it easier to contract COVID-19 by a process called aerosolization. Continuous positive airway pressure machines are used for several conditions, including sleep apnea. The CPAP machine works by forcing air into the body, propping the airway open as the user sleeps.
Dr. Kelley Mingus treats sleep apnea patients in his Bend, Oregon, clinic. He says this new information highlights another reason that CPAP therapy isn’t always the best option.
“Studies have shown that CPAP is simply not as effective as other methods,” he says.
Why? According to Mingus, for starters the machines are often deemed uncomfortable, leading patients to not actually use them. For others it can be difficult to wear the mask or get the mask adjusted properly, causing improper use. But Mingus has a solution.
“In my practice, we use sleep orthotics to prop the airway open. While CPAP therapy works for some, most people who try sleep orthotics prefer them to CPAP,” Mingus says.
That’s because oral sleep orthotics are custom made to fit the patient’s mouth, so they are extremely comfortable, and thus more likely to be worn.
Another benefit to sleep orthotics, according to Mingus, is that they’re a lot easier to clean than CPAP machines, something that some CPAP users struggle with or simply do not do as often as they should.
“One of the reasons that CPAP therapy is increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19 is because, according to experts, it increases the aerosolization of the virus,” says Mingus, “and with the machines being so difficult to clean, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Mingus says that with many specialty clinics closed in communities around the country, it can be hard to switch over to a sleep orthotic during the pandemic. But for patients who are concerned about their CPAP machine increasing their COVID-19 risk, it’s worth tracking down your doctor and seeing if you can discontinue CPAP use for a while.
“CPAP therapy may be necessary for some people, and in lieu of not having an orthotic yet may be beneficial to stay in use,” Mingus says. “That being said, if it’s uncomfortable and if you are concerned about using it, finding a specialist to create a sleep orthotic is a great alternative.”