One of the most popular options on a CPAP machine is a CPAP humidifier. The CPAP humidifier moisturizes the air blown into the sleeper’s airway, creating a more comfortable sleeping experience.
There are two types of CPAP humidifiers:
Passive CPAP Humidifier – Air is blown through a water-filled chamber to pick up moisture. The amount of moisture absorbed is dependent on ambient air temperature, and warmer air will be moister. This is not as effective as a heated humidifier, but is often fine for people who live in dry climates.
Heated CPAP Humidifier – Functions similarly to the above, but the water chamber is heated so more moisture will be absorbed into the air. The air itself is still cool by the time it reaches the sleeper, but will contain substantially more moisture than a passive system delivers.
Who Needs a CPAP Humidifier?
The short answer is that any CPAP user can benefit from humidification. CPAP air can be an irritation to sleepers, although it is not always enough of an irritation to warrant a humidifier. The dry air being forced into the nasal passages and can cause irritation of the delicate sinus membranes. This can lead to symptoms such as sneezing, excess mucous production, nosebleeds, and infection. The irritation and effects can be cumulative, growing worse over time.
Sleepers who live in warm, arid climates will see the greatest benefit of any group from passive CPAP humidifiers. The air is already so dry that it is likely to pick up a fair amount of moisture even from a passive humidifier.
Sleepers in cold climates are likely to need a heated CPAP humidifier. The cold air will pick up less moisture from a passive system and need the boost of a heated humidification chamber to benefit from the full effects.
Sleepers who use CPAP full face masks may also need a heated CPAP humidifier. These sleepers are generally mouth breathers, so they don’t get the benefit of the warm, moist air that can be obtained when breathing through their noses.
Integrated or Separate CPAP Humidifier
An integrated CPAP humidifier is included in the device itself, meaning no extra hoses or power cords are necessary. The total footprint of the device will also be smaller than two separate units.
Separate humidifiers are generally more efficient, putting more moisture into the air. Passive humidifiers provide a larger surface area to absorb moisture, and heated humidifiers run hotter, allowing greater absorption.
Care of Your CPAP Humidifier
Although a CPAP humidifier provides greater comfort and is a necessity for some sleepers and some climates, it adds another layer of maintenance to the device. The humidifier chamber must be filled every day; most users must buy distilled water as their tap water will leave increasing mineral deposits that can eventually interfere with the humidifier’s ability to function. The chamber must be cleaned often to prevent the buildup of mold and algae, both of which can cause health problems, especially since they are being blown directly into the sleeper’s airway. Though humidifiers require care, the benefits and comfort they provide are often seen as well worth the work.
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