Sleep Soundly Despite the Buzz: Controlling CPAP Noise

Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices are designed for the specific purpose of helping sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea get a good night's sleep.

The air delivered to the nose or mouth (or both) is pressurized and this pressure keeps the airways open, thus avoiding the short pauses in breathing associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

Because the devices contain multiple component parts, there will inevitably come a time when some components need replacing. Typically, these will be the mask or tubing -- but this is normal and to be expected.

What if the motor or generator is the problem? This may be the case if the PAP device begins to emit a buzzing, whistling or whining noise -- as this may indicate an internal problem. This would be unusual, however, as PAP devices are produced within high standards of quality – so there is more likely to be a simpler reason for PAP noise -- and the solution may be a quick and easy one.

No Silent Nights?

It would be unrealistic to expect any piece of electronic machinery to run silently. Every PAP device will output some level of noise -- but this should not be enough to disturb the user's sleep.

The level (and type) of noise will vary from machine to machine, but should be no more than a very low background hum. The decibel level should be 30 or lower -- which equates to no more than a loud whisper. This level refers to the running noise of the device -- and this will naturally increase slightly if the air pressure is increased, as is the case with auto-adjusting PAP devices.

A low hum is the norm for PAP device noise -- and although this may initially take getting used to, it will soon become almost unnoticeable.
With proper care and maintenance, a PAP device should run quietly and efficiently for years -- and it is only when the noise level increases enough to disturb sleep, or strange noises start to appear, that action is required.

Simple Fix

Unexpected and unwanted noises from a previously well-functioning PAP device can often be traced to basic problems for which there is usually a simple fix. Among the most common issues are air leaks and incorrect device settings.

Examining the device with the ears and eyes is often all that is required to detect the source of the problem. Air leaks can occur anywhere and will usually be accompanied by a hissing or whining sound.

A thorough examination of the device's motor, humidifier, tubing system, mask -- and all connections between them -- may locate the source of the noise and, once located, remedial action can be taken.

Complete Check

Examining the PAP device should be done in a methodical step-by-step manner.

Mask. A loose mask can produce a hissing or whistling noise as the air escapes. The mask should be secure yet comfortable to wear. Cracked or broken frames, damaged cushions or blocked diffusers can also be a source of unwanted noises.

Filters. Filters need to be cleaned regularly with warm, soapy water and replaced as per the manufacturer's instructions. Dirty or worn filters can not only cause noise but also adversely impact on the effectiveness of PAP therapy.

Humidifier. The humidifier, which moistens the air, will generally last for three to five years before it must be replaced. However, accidental damage to the humidifier can reduce its effectiveness and cause a whistling sound. The humidifier can also be damaged when used without water in the reservoir.

Hosing and Connections. Air leaks from punctured or cracked hosing will (unsurprisingly) lead to hissing noises as the air escapes. Even if there is no problem with noise, the hosing and all connection points should be inspected regularly and the connectors tightened as necessary.

These are parts of the PAP device that are accessible and any problems can usually be fixed with little difficulty. However, if the problem is traced back to the device's motor, then it should only be dealt with by a recognized professional. Attempting to fix the motor or compressor yourself is not only risky --but will also invalidate the guarantee on the CPAP device.

Repair or Replace?

Nine times out of ten, any noise issues can be resolved quickly and easily following a check. However, if the noise persists, or quickly returns, it may be time to consider a new PAP device. If the fault is in the motor, and this cannot be repaired by a qualified technician, then there is no option other than a replacement PAP device.

The replacement option also applies to older devices. You must remember that the PAP device is probably operating for up to eight hours every night, every day of the year, and this will eventually take a toll.

There is no set time for replacing a PAP device and everything depends on the quality of the device and how well it has been maintained.
The manufacturer's warranty will give some indication of how long the PAP device should last while remaining effective. A five-year warranty will usually mean replacing the device after five years have elapsed as this is when deterioration can be expected.

Persisting with a defective CPAP device, or one that is not operating at its optimum, is ill-advised -- as it will not provide the level of care required to properly treat obstructive sleep apnea.

Proper cleaning and maintenance, combined with regular replacement of damaged or worn components, will prolong the life of the device but cannot do so indefinitely.

Noise issues can usually be remedied, but constant humming, buzzing or whistling that even a technician cannot remedy is a sign that the time has come for a new PAP device!