Can My CPAP Make Me Sick? Proper Cleaning Can Help Avoid Illness

Risks of Infection Reduced with Regular Cleaning, Distilled Water Use

Proper cleaning can help you to avoid illness and ensure your CPAP doesn't make you sick
Proper cleaning can help you to avoid illness and ensure your CPAP doesn't make you sick. Getty Images

It is common when initially starting the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat sleep apnea to worry about the risk of infection from the device. You might ask, “Can CPAP make me sick?” Learn about whether you might be at risk of infection from using a CPAP machine and how to avoid this with proper cleaning and distilled water use.

The Dangers of Infection with CPAP Machines

First, the CPAP itself is initially a sterile device.

The plastic and metal parts will not cause illness on their own, and germs will not be present there when the machine is new. Once you start using it, the germs inside it are your germs. Therefore, you are at low risk of acquiring a new infection from a CPAP if you are the only one using your device. The bugs – whether they are bacteria or viruses – are ones that you put there via breathing, and your body has already reached a truce with them.

The Risk of Warm, Humid Environments and Mold

The CPAP has some "creature features" to make it more comfortable to use. In particular, the heated humidifier and heated tubing may make the air more warm and moist. This decreases mouth and nose dryness and improves tolerance to the therapy. However, there are organisms that also love a warm, humid environment. In particular, fungus, yeast, and mold would love to hang out in such a place.

If your CPAP is not kept clean and excess moisture is allowed to sit in the tubing or humidifier, you might be at risk of developing a fungal or yeast colonization.

Dangerous molds could also establish themselves in the equipment. These organisms could potentially be harmful to you. This may lead to irritation of the airways and lungs, contributing to cough or possibly even an infection like bronchitis or pneumonia.

Large studies have not been performed, but the risk is likely extremely low.

The use of a humidifier and adequate hygiene seems to reduce these risks. If water is left in the device for an extended period of time without use, mold is more likely to form.

How to Avoid Infection When Using CPAP

In order to reduce the theoretical risk of infection or exposure to unwanted fungi or molds, there are certain steps that you can take.

  • Make sure to clean your CPAP as often as you should with hot water and soap. It is recommended that this be done at least weekly, depending on your environment.
  • If you are sick with a cold or flu, clean your mask, tubing, and device thoroughly to remove mucus and other undesirable residual discharges from the illness.
  • Do not let water or moisture remain in the equipment for prolonged periods and use a heated humidifier and heated tubing to reduce condensation. If you decide to stop using the treatment for longer than a few days, clean and dry it out completely.
  • Use distilled water in the humidifier to reduce your risk of infection by amoeba in certain regions such as Lousiana. If you don't trust the local water supply, err on the side of using distilled water.
  • Replace your supplies, including machine filters, as often as you should. Masks should be replaced at least every 3 months and filters should be changed monthly.
  • Do not share your equipment with others to prevent the spread of infection. Do not purchase or accept used equipment, especially used masks and tubing.

By taking these simple steps, you can reduce the risk of infection and ensure that you get the healthful benefits you expect from your treatment.


Aly H et al. “Nasal colonization among premature infants treated with nasal continuous positive airway pressure.” Am J Perinatol. 2011 Apr; 28(4):315.320.

Ortolano, GA et al. “Filters reduce the risk of bacterial transmission from contaminated heated humidifiers used with CPAP for obstructive sleep apnea.” J Clin Sleep Med. 2007 Dec 15; 3(7)700-5.

Sanner BM et al. “Effect of continuous positive airway pressure therapy on infectious complications in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.” Respiration. 2001; 68(5):483-7.

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