Do I need a humidifier?
A CPAP Heated Humidifier houses a water chamber, which it heats to moisturise the air provided by your machine. They are ideal for those who find the machine leaves them waking with a dry mouth, sore nasal passages or simply find the air cold and therefore uncomfortable.
They are usually an additional piece of equipment that locks onto or into your main CPAP machine (such as in the picture, right, demonstrating the Respironics System One arrangement), but some CPAP machines come with a humidifier built in. Most machines will have their own specific humidifier available.
For some people, humidification is an essential part of their therapy, for others there is little benefit, so it really does come down to personal preference. Those using a full face mask are more likely to require humidification as they are particularly susceptible to a dry mouth. For those using an oral mask, humidification is more or less essential.
Not sure if you require a humidifier? For most machine they can be purchased and integrated separately, so you can just order your machine without and see how you go. If you do find the air to be uncomfortably cold, or are suffering from dryness in the mouth or nose, then you can order the humidifier separately. However if you do already wake with a dry mouth, then CPAP is only likely to exacerbate that and so we would recommend purchasing one immediately. For those unsure, just see how you get on without before committing.
If you know you need a humidifier, then it could be worth considering a machine with a humidifier built-in. An example of this is the Fisher and Paykel ICON (shown left). These add greater convenience and are often more compact than having two separate units (one machine, one humidifier) so save space on your bedside table. However, these are not recommended for those who will be travelling with their CPAP machine.
This is because humidifiers are not designed for travelling. They can quite easily cause damage to your main CPAP machine, as while moving water can leak into into it. It is therefore important to ensure the humidifier is completely free of water - and preferably packed separately. They also add to the bulk and weight of the machine. Finally, if you are running your machine from a 12V source (for example in a car or caravan) then your humidifier will not be able to run off of DC power. It can still be used passively though (unpowered and unheated).
Overall, if you will be travelling we would always advise you to leave the humidifier behind unless it is essential or you are away for an extended period. If you do take it to exercise extreme care so as not to damage any of your equipment. If you will be travelling, we would recommend purchasing a CPAP machine that has a separate humidifier rather than one that is built-in.
The main drawback of humidification is rainout, the proper name for condensation that builds up in the tubing and mask. The tubing and mask will be at room temperature, causing the warm air to cool and condense as a result. This can result in gargling noise or just general discomfort, and is particularly common in the winter months. There are ways to counteract this however.
One is with a hose fleece, which provides the hosing with insulation (and also make the tubing physically more comfortable to touch). The second, more comprehensive option is to use a heated CPAP hose, such as the Hybernite Heated Breathing Tube. The heated hose ensure the temperature difference inside the hose is negligable, preventing rainout and ensuring the air reaches you at the temperature intended.
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