Can Your CPAP Mask Make You Sick?

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When you use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to treat sleep apnea, there's a potential risk of infection, including sinus infections and pneumonia. Thankfully this risk is extremely low. And there are many proven benefits of using CPAP to treat sleep apnea, which include improved blood pressure, reduced daytime sleepiness, and better mood, cognitive function, and quality of life.

With proper cleaning steps on a regular basis and the use of filters, distilled water in a heated humidifier, and heated tubing, you can reduce your chances of getting sick.

How to Avoid Infection With Your CPAP Mask
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

The Dangers of Infection

The CPAP machine 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.

Though there may be a reasonable concern for potential infection from the use of CPAP equipment, there is little research supporting such an association. In fact, there are small but reassuring studies showing that CPAP use has no significant risk of causing infection.

Once you start using it your germs can enter the device. Therefore, you are at low risk of acquiring a new infection from a CPAP if you are the only one using your device. The germs—whether they are bacteria or viruses—are ones that you put there via breathing, and your body has already maintained a balance or become relatively immune to them.

Moreover, some research actually suggests that regular CPAP use reduces inflammation and the risk of infection in the nasal passage. Cells associated with these phenomena are seen less often in the noses of compliant users of the therapy.

However, some germs can be introduced via contaminated water, such as Legionella, a type of bacterial infection. And there have been several case reports in the scientific literature reporting Legionella pneumonia and Streptococcus infection associated with home CPAP machine use.

There have been a few reports of eye irritation and ulceration occurring with CPAP use, possibly related to masks leaking air into the eyes, but the cause-and-effect relationship is not clear.

Fungal and Mold Risks

The CPAP has some features to make it more comfortable to use. In particular, the heated humidifier and heated tubing may make the air warmer and moister. This decreases mouth and nose dryness.

Decreased dryness may actually reduce the risk of potential infection, and it improves tolerance to the therapy.

However, there are organisms that also love a warm, humid environment—in particular, fungus, yeast, and mold. Dangerous molds can potentially establish themselves in the equipment.

Some of these organisms could be harmful to you, and the air pressure may blow these organisms directly into your lungs. That may lead to irritation of the airways and lungs, causing a cough, or an infection like bronchitis, pneumonia, or inflammation of the lungs called pneumonitis.

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.

However, the risk of this type of complication 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. Therefore, the device should not be stored with water left in it, especially in an environment that might promote such growth (like leaving the CPAP in a shed or garage for months or years and then resuming its use).

How to Avoid Infection

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

  • Clean your CPAP as often as instructed with hot water and dish soap. It is not necessary to use an expensive CPAP sanitizer device. The equipment manufacturers suggest daily cleaning. If you are not able to clean it daily, you must clean it at least weekly, depending on your environment.
  • If you are sick with a cold or flu, or COVID-19, clean your mask, tubing, and device thoroughly to remove mucus and other undesirable residual discharges from the illness. This basic hygiene can help prevent unpleasant smells from developing.
  • Do not let water or moisture remain in the equipment for prolonged periods (more than a few days unused). Clean and dry it out completely. Use a heated humidifier and heated tubing to reduce condensation. Modern devices can circulate air to help dry out the tubing after use has concluded.
  • Use distilled water in the humidifier to reduce your risk of infection by amoeba in certain high-risk regions, such as Louisiana. If you don't trust the local water supply, always err on the side of using distilled water. This can also avoid the accumulation of minerals inside the water chamber.
  • Replace your supplies, including machine filters, as recommended. Filters have been shown to reduce the spread of bacteria within the device. Masks should be replaced at least every three months. Filters and mask cushions (the part that touches your face) should be changed every two weeks to monthly.
  • Do not share your equipment with others. Do not purchase or accept used equipment, especially used masks and tubing.

By taking these steps, you can reduce the risk of infection as you continue to get the healthful benefits you expect from your treatment.

Do You Need a CPAP Sanitizer?

It is not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a specialized CPAP sanitizer, such as the SoClean unit that retails for $299. There is no evidence that these cleaners reduce the risk of infection.

Though it might make it easier to keep things clean on a daily basis, the cost likely outweighs any potential benefit. Save your money and avoid this expenditure. Instead, commit yourself to cleaning your equipment with soap and hot water at least weekly.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to keep your CPAP equipment clean. This will avoid any potential risks associated with its use. Beyond cleaning the equipment regularly, make certain to replace your supplies as often as insurance will allow. If you need further guidance, talk to your healthcare provider, who can provide additional instruction and resources.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mercieca L, Pullicino R, Camilleri K, et al. Continuous positive airway pressure: Is it a route for infection in those with obstructive sleep apnoea?. Sleep Sci. 2017;10(1):28-34. doi:10.5935/1984-0063.20170005

  2. Gelardi M, Carbonara G, Maffezzoni E, Marvisi M, Quaranta N, Ferri R. Regular CPAP utilization reduces nasal inflammation assessed by nasal cytology in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Sleep Med. 2012;13(7):859-63. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2012.04.004

  3. Chin CJ, George C, Lannigan R, Rotenberg BW. Association of CPAP bacterial colonization with chronic rhinosinusitis. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013;9(8):747-50. doi:10.5664/jcsm.2910

  4. American Sleep Apnea Association. CPAP/BIPAP machine cleaning and maintenance suggestions. 2011.

  5. American Sleep Apnea Association. The importance of CPAP humidification.

  6. Care and Replacement of CPAP Equipment. American Sleep Apnea Association.

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.