Diagnosis & treatment

Humidifiers and Treatment Compliance

There has been much discussion about why people with obstructive sleep apnea either stay on track with their therapy or stop therapy altogether. It could be the mask is too uncomfortable, the machine itself is too loud, or a simple case of forgetfulness.

One thing that affects patient therapy compliance that may not be known to the wider public is humidifier use. How does the use of a humidifier within a CPAP machine help or not help someone living with sleep apnea to stay on a regular therapeutic schedule? Follow along below and we’ll give you some insights into that very question.

What are humidifiers and what do they do?

Before we tap into humidifier use and how it relates to therapy compliance, it’s a good idea to learn about what CPAP humidifiers do.

One of the most important aspects of sleep apnea therapy is the use of humidifiers. They help drastically reduce the dryness and discomfort that a lot of people living with sleep apnea routinely experience.

Those uncomfortable sleep apnea symptoms can be exacerbated when the weather turns cold. Cold, dry air can make it harder to breathe, and compounds the dryness in your mouth when you wake up in the morning. Also, your nose works overtime to create warm air before it reaches your lungs. A properly working CPAP heated humidifier does all that extra work for you, so you can sleep comfortably.

Why is it important to use a sleep apnea humidifier?

The main reason a person living with sleep apnea should use a humidifier is because it helps with treatment compliance. According to a study conducted in Sweden that was led by Dr. Andreas Palm of Uppsala University, people with sleep apnea are more likely to stick to their treatment when they use a CPAP machine that has a built-in humidifier.1

How did researchers figure this out? They followed 16,425 people who had been prescribed CPAP between the years 2010 and 2017. The study, which appeared in the official journal of the World Sleep Society and International Pediatric Sleep Association, Sleep Medicine, showed that within one year of beginning treatment, 2,395 patients (around 15 percent) were only using their machines for two-and-a-half hours per night instead of for the duration of the night as had been prescribed. Another 1,527 patients (9 percent) had stopped using their machines altogether.

The study also discovered that patients who used their CPAP machines along with humidifiers from the beginning of treatment were less likely to discontinue their treatment by 43 percent.

Another important discovery to come out of the study in Sweden is the importance of CPAP machines with integrated humidifiers being used from the start of treatment. In the years prior to the study, and even in its early years, doctors wouldn’t always prescribe one to a patient right away. But after the results of the study were published, Dr. Palm says more doctors should be prescribing CPAP machines with built-in humidifiers at the beginning of treatment.

Thankfully, this has already begun to occur. From the start of the study to the end, the number of patients getting humidifiers rose from 30 percent at the beginning to 72 percent by the conclusion. That’s a significant jump and should open the eyes of doctors and patients alike.

We hope this helps you better understand the relationship between humidifier use and treatment compliance. If you have more specific questions about ResMed’s line of humidifiers, visit our humidifier support page.


1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945718304015#kwrds0010

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