Sleep Apnea, My Sinus Infection, and What I Learned by Robin Gorman Newman

On Thanksgiving, I took very ill with what presented as a virus.  We are out of town for the holiday, so I visited a walk-in medical center near our hotel, and was given Mucinex and Flonase and toughed it out.

When I returned home a few days later, I went to see my ENT who diagnosed it as a sinus infection.  This being my first, I had no idea what to expect.  I was put on an antibiotic which I’ve taken before, but this time, I wound up having what looked like an allergic reaction.  After a scary night when I thought I might have to go to the hospital, I then went to see my internist, who has a specialization in cardiology.

He did an EKG and exam and concurred about the sinus infection, and I was switched to another antibiotic.  A week later, nearly done with the antibiotic and still not feeling well, I decided to have my trusted integrative MD weigh in.  He said he thought it was a fungal (vs. bacterial) sinus infection, and put me on a different medication and a host of alternative approaches.  Everything from taking Olive Leaf Extract to gargling with Oil of Oregano, and more.  It’s felt like a fulltime job, but what’s more important than good health and practicing self care?!

I’m working at it all and very gradually improving.  Apparently fungus infections take time, and you often feel worse as you’re recovering.

During the course of this, one of the things I wondered about was my CPAP and if it might have played any role.  I was diagnosed with moderate obstructive sleep apnea over a year ago, and wear a nasal pillow mask nightly to bed.

I questioned if wearing it nightly while I was ill and breathing in the continuous air might have possibly exacerbated the situation if germs were recirculating.  I do clean the mask and tube — using warm water and white vinegar for the tube, and an antibacterial soap and water for the mask.  When I mentioned to my ENT, he blew it off, saying there are germs all over.

But, my wise integrative MD, however, felt there was potentially more going on than meets the eye, literally.

In my ongoing quest to be as informed as possible, I reached out to Dr. David M. Rapoport, who I have previously interviewed about sleep apnea.  He is Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Research Director, Mount Sinai Health System Integrative Sleep Center.  A true pioneer in the sleep apnea arena and the use of CPAP machines, he shared the following that I thought was important to pass on to others.

According to Dr. Rapoport, “Bacteria (and fungi) grow where it is wet, so the most important thing is to dry your system completely in the AM (leave it running with the tube attached and without humidity on for an hour or so). If anything, daily cleaning of the tubing could make things worse for infection, if you don’t dry thoroughly (either run machine dry after cleaning, or hang tube so it drys completely.) Cleaning the tubing with vinegar once a week should be enough. Another option is to use a Sanitation Companion Kit that uses the water-less activated oxygen system which sanitizes areas where UV light can’t reach. As to the effect of the CPAP on your current infection, the humidity at night should help, not hurt (if it was not the source of the infection).”

This was a huge wake-up moment for me.  There have definitely been times when my tube wasn’t fully dry, and I never knew how to remedy that.  Nor did I ever realize that it could result in very harmful bacteria or fungi that can make you quite ill.

I’ve thankfully never had a yeast infection, so fungi wasn’t anywhere on my radar.

From the beginning, when I was first diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, I was sent by my pulmonologist and the insurance company to a firm that provides masks, etc., and left with a kit that I then put together myself at home.  No one ever came to my home to instruct me or fully inform me of how to handle everything.  I know of others who had a very different experience.  A gal I went to high school with who now lives in Paris shared that a medical practitioner came to her home to help her get setup, answer any questions, etc.  How wonderful and helpful!

I don’t know how many have had that experience, but they are highly fortunate if they did.

So, as we seem to be in a very sickly season — so many I know are suffering from some illness — I urge you to dry your mask and tube thoroughly.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I’m grateful to now have this knowledge so I can do my best to continue to maintain my health going forward once I’m over this immediate hurdle.