Sleep apnea can be stressful on the best day. During the coronavirus pandemic, it can feel like a nightmare. But with the right precautions, you can use your CPAP machine without having to worry about the safety of you or your loved ones.
"In fact, 30 million people have sleep apnea in America," says Raj Dasgupta, M.D., board-certified sleep medicine physician, assistant program director of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Southern California, and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. Of course, some of those people will contract COVID-19. Want to keep sleeping safely? Here are Dr. Raj's tips for dealing with sleep apnea during the COVID-19 crisis.
Understand that sleep apnea and coronavirus have a complicated relationship.
"There are no studies out there that show that obstructive sleep apnea by itself will put you at a higher risk for getting coronavirus," Dr. Raj says. However, he explains, certain underlying conditions that are often present in patients with sleep apnea could make you more susceptible to COVID-19, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even just being older.
"Those are the people who at a high risk of getting obstructive sleep apnea anyways," Dr. Raj says. "It's associated with coronavirus, though maybe not directly." The solution here is to take precautions that everyone else is taking: Practice social distancing, wash your hands thoroughly, and wear masks outside.
If you don't have symptoms, keep using your CPAP machine.
Because the coronavirus is more harmful to older individuals and those with respiratory issues, you've likely wondered if your CPAP machine is doing more harm than good. "The question is, 'If I have COVID-19, will my machine make it worse,'" Dr. Raj says. "The answer is no. By wearing your CPAP mask, it will not make the disease worse."
Without evidence of infection, there's no reason to interrupt your sleep by refusing to use your CPAP machine. Dr. Raj is clear on this point: "Continue to use your device, because you won't get that good quality sleep otherwise," he says.
If you have COVID-19, sleep alone.
If you're symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19, you should sleep away from anyone else in your household. "There is a chance that you could be spreading the virus even more, because you're blowing that air in," Dr. Raj says. "You might put the other people in your house at risk when you wear your mask."
Even if you aren't exhibiting symptoms, you might still want to consider sleeping separately from anyone else in your home during this public health emergency, as contaminated air from asymptomatic CPAP users could seep out of the machine and infect others.
To minimize exposure, isolate yourself in a separate bedroom and only use your machine when you're alone. If self-isolation isn't an option in your location, Dr. Raj suggests you contact your sleep physician before making any changes to your nightly routine. They might be able to recommend short-term solutions for halting CPAP machine use.
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