COVID-19 (more commonly known as the coronavirus) has dominated headlines for the last several weeks, sparking worry across the globe as the number of confirmed cases and deaths associated with the disease have continued to rise. Several states across the country have declared states of emergency, grocery stores have sold out of hand sanitizer and other necessities, and stock markets have plummeted.
In the midst of all this turmoil, those with underlying health conditions — including sleep apnea — have likely been even more concerned than the average citizen, since reports indicate that those with pre-existing health issues are more likely to experience severe symptoms or death as a result of contracting the coronavirus.
So what should CPAP users do in response to the coronavirus? While there is still much that is being learned about the disease, there are a few basics that CPAP users should be aware of so that they can lower their risk.
Coronavirus and Pre-Existing Health Conditions
One of the most alarming statistics for CPAP users is that preliminary reports suggest that those with an underlying health condition have a higher mortality rate from the coronavirus. This includes individuals with chronic respiratory diseases, such as obstructive sleep apnea and COPD. WHO reports indicate a mortality rate of eight percent for individuals with such diseases, as opposed to a 0.9 percent rate for those without underlying conditions.
Another issue is that obstructive sleep apnea is a known contributor to several other serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Based on available data, the COVID-19 mortality rate is 13.2 percent for those with cardiovascular disease, 9.2 percent for individuals with diabetes, and 8.4 percent for those with hypertension.
While these numbers are certainly alarming for CPAP users who experience additional health problems, it is important to put these numbers into perspective. Health experts believe that early mortality rate reports are somewhat misleading because they are primarily based on those who have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. Many people likely have not needed to be hospitalized because they experience only mild symptoms.
While this is somewhat encouraging news, there is still no denying that CPAP users should likely take extra precautions in comparison to the general population.
The Importance of Quality Sleep
Another factor to be mindful of in relation to COVID-19 and other diseases is that maintaining quality sleep can go a long way in bolstering your immune system. Doctors consistently recommend that patients suffering from a cold get plenty of rest as part of their recovery.
In fact, a study by UC San Francisco found that “short sleep” was the biggest factor in whether or not someone caught a cold when exposed to a virus. Those who had less than six hours of sleep per night were four times as likely to get sick as those who slept seven or more hours.
Those who suffer from sleep apnea may think they are getting seven to nine hours of sleep, but the constant interruptions to sleep resulting from their condition keep them from getting the rest they need to stay healthy. Using a CPAP machine ensures uninterrupted deep sleep, giving the body time to produce virus-destroying T cells and cytokine.
Getting a full night’s rest makes your body better able to fight back against disease — which makes CPAP compliance essential for those suffering from sleep apnea or COPD. Not only will you feel better rested in the morning, but you will be less prone to sickness.
All this being said, quality sleep alone isn’t a guarantee against catching the coronavirus. However, in light of other health recommendations from the CDC, it is clear that getting quality sleep at night can only be beneficial.
How You Can Protect Yourself
So if sleep alone isn’t enough to protect you from the coronavirus, what other steps should you take? As the CDC explains, there is not yet a vaccine for this disease. Because of this, the best way to avoid getting sick is to follow the same guidelines used to prevent the spread of the flu and other similar illnesses.
CPAP users should avoid touching their face, as the nose, mouth, and eyes present an easy avenue for viruses to enter the body. Frequently touched surfaces in the home (or at work) should be disinfected often, preferably with a bacteria-killing wipe or spray. When washing your hands, be sure to wash for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol can also be used.
The risk of community spread is another major concern. CPAP users should avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid shaking hands at work or church. Remember, because many people will likely experience mild symptoms from the coronavirus, they may not be quarantined as a result of their illness.
If you live in an area where cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, you may wish to take additional precautions, like avoiding large gatherings. If possible, it may be good to see if you can work from home, rather than going into the office. By taking proactive measures to protect yourself, you greatly reduce your risk for getting sick.
What If You Get the Coronavirus?
While mortality rate reports can be alarming, the important thing to remember is that the majority of those who have been diagnosed with the disease survive — and it is believed that many more likely experienced milder symptoms that never required hospitalization at all. Still, being aware of the risks and knowing what to do can give you an idea of how to respond if you start feeling sick.
The CDC notes that symptoms may appear between two days and two weeks after initial exposure to the coronavirus, and typically include a fever accompanied by a dry cough and shortness of breath. In more severe circumstances, these symptoms may lead into a type of bronchitis or pneumonia.
If you think that you have been infected, you should contact your doctor. Medical professionals will help you know what to do next and determine whether you should be tested. Regardless of the severity of your symptoms, however, you should stay home and self-quarantine for the duration of the illness. Stay away from public transportation and don’t go into work or other public areas to reduce the risk of spreading the disease in your community.
As with other illnesses, you should use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and immediately dispose of it. Wash your hands frequently and disinfect surfaces in the house. It is recommended that people who are sick wear a face mask to further reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.
Because CPAP users are at a higher risk of developing more serious complications from the coronavirus, you should closely monitor your symptoms. If your condition seems to be worsening — and particularly if you are having trouble breathing — call your doctor so you can get medical attention as soon as possible. Call 911 for emergencies. Make sure they are aware that you have the coronavirus so they can take any necessary precautions.
Rest, isolation, and constant monitoring of your health will help you recover and ensure that you don’t expose others in your community to the virus. Strictly follow recommendations from health professionals and the health department — even if they seem inconvenient.
Maintaining Sanitary Conditions With Your CPAP Machine
Another concern for CPAP users is how they will continue using their CPAP machine when the coronavirus is a potential risk. You should not stop using your CPAP machine out of fears of the coronavirus. In fact, a report from the National Academy of Medicine indicates that CPAP and BiPAP machines have actually helped some patients in early case studies.
Remember, the purpose of the CPAP machine is to keep your airways open throughout the night. The constant flow of air pressure can alleviate breathing problems, and using your CPAP device at night will ensure your body is better rested to fight disease.
As part of the preventative process, cleaning and properly maintaining your CPAP machine should be of a higher priority than ever. Tubing, masks, and humidifier water chambers should be cleaned daily to lower the risk of infection.
Though somewhat time-consuming, one effective method for cleaning your mask and tubing is to wash them in warm, soapy water. Use a tube cleaning brush to thoroughly scrub the inside of the tubing to loosen up any bacteria or buildup. Soak the mask and tubing for half an hour, then rinse them and allow them to air-dry. Make sure the tubing is hanging with both ends pointed down so that any water inside the tube will drain out.
Alternative cleaning options include wipes and cleaners, which can be used similarly to a disinfectant wipe or spray. These products are alcohol and latex free, and serve as an effective method of removing organic residue (like oils and bacteria from your skin) before you put on your mask.
Perhaps the most effective cleaning option is to use a specialty CPAP cleaning and sanitizing device like the SoClean 2 Automated CPAP Cleaner and Sanitizer or the VirtuCLEAN CPAP Mask Automatic Cleaner. These products use activated oxygen (ozone) to eliminate over 99 percent of viruses and bacteria in a short cleaning cycle. Simply hook your CPAP equipment up to the sanitizing device and activate the cycle, and you can be on your way.
Finally, be sure to follow filter replacement and cleaning guidelines. Many modern CPAP machines use both disposable and reusable filters. These filters eliminate dust, bacteria, and other airborne contaminants before air is sent from your CPAP machine to the mask. Disposable filters typically need to be replaced after two weeks. While reusable filters only need to be replaced after six months, they should also be washed regularly to deliver higher air quality. Check your manufacturer’s guidelines for specific cleaning and replacement schedules.
In reality, such cleaning and maintenance procedures should be done at any time — not just when you are sick. Consistently caring for your CPAP equipment will lower your risk for respiratory illnesses and improve the effectiveness of your sleep apnea therapy.
Keeping Up With CPAP in Challenging Times
During times like this, when the coronavirus is sparking fear across the globe, it’s only natural that CPAP users would feel more anxious. While you cannot control what happens in the world around you, you can control how you care for yourself and how you address your underlying health conditions.
There is no reason to stop using your CPAP device in the midst of the current outbreak. In fact, remaining compliant with your sleep apnea treatment could help you stay healthy and avoid developing more severe problems.
With all that being said, if you or a loved one begin experiencing significant symptoms, contact your doctor to determine what you should do. Be aware of the overall risk level in your area, and use reliable sources of information (the news, not social media) to get a better idea of what is going on and what you should do.
Despite everything else that is going on, make sure that you keep your equipment in top shape. Replace filters, masks, and other CPAP supplies as needed to reduce the risk of air leaks and bacterial growth. By controlling what you can control, you will be able to stay healthy. At Help Medical Supplies, we will provide affordable prices and reliable delivery so you can keep up with your CPAP therapy, no matter what.