Nova Scotia

Respirologist advises patients to keep using recalled sleep apnea machines, for now

A Halifax respirologist is trying to ease the concerns of his patients around an international recall of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines.

Philips recalling CPAP and BiPAP machines because of risk of foam particles

Philips has recalled a number of its sleep apnea machines, including this model. (Philips Respironics)

A Halifax respirologist is trying to ease the concerns of his patients around an international recall of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines.

The machines are worn at night, and help people with sleep apnea and other serious respiratory problems. The company Philips has recalled a number of popular devices sold across the U.S. and Canada, largely in the DreamStation line of products.

The company said there's a slight chance patients could inhale foam particles that have degraded over time.

"Philips has not received reports of patient impact or serious harm as a result of this issue," the company states in its recall notice. "We cannot stress enough that Philips is treating this matter with the highest possible seriousness."

While Philips works on a fix, recall notices have been sent out.

'Big headache'

Dr. Alex Nelson, a respirologist with a sub-specialty in sleep medicine at the QEII Health Centre in Halifax, estimates he prescribed Philips machines to 70 per cent of his patients over the last five years.

"It's certainly been a big headache at our end in terms of getting in contact with everyone and trying to come up with a plan," he said Thursday.

He said he has never heard of a patient developing symptoms after using the device, but he does not know the long-term effect if they were to inhale foam particles. "The actual reported events are very, very small," he said. "What effect that might have over five to 10 years? We don't know."

For now, he said the benefit outweighs the risk. He's telling all patients, except those with mild sleep apnea symptoms, to keep using the devices.

Sleep apnea can cause impairment, and make people drowsy during the day.

"They are really at risk of adverse advents, whether that's traffic accidents or related to their oxygen dropping in their sleep as an additional effect, at risk of heart attack and stroke."

The BiPAP machines, Nelson said, are life–sustaining. Those patients could risk respiratory failure if they stopped using them.

Shortage in stores

The recall has put a push on machines from other brands. Several sleep stores in Nova Scotia told CBC News they've been swamped with calls.

Nelson said they're struggling to find machines for patients who are newly diagnosed.

The Lung Association of Nova Scotia has also received many inquiries. It runs a refurbishment program, passing along donated machines to those who can't afford them.

"We have certainly had a lot of requests from people looking for replacement machines," said Michelle Donaldson, the association's communications and special project manager.

"Our inventory has also been impacted by the recall. So we're not able to just replace people's machines."

Michelle Donaldson, a spokesperson for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, seen here with a radon detector, says they've received a number of calls from people concerned about the Philips recall. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Donaldson and Nelson want everyone affected to make sure they register their machine on the Philips website as soon as possible to make sure they're on the list for a replacement.

"Our hope is that Philips is going to step up quickly with a solution to this problem," said Donaldson.

Philips gives no timeline on its website for that solution. Nelson said the company is likely hampered by the pandemic, and demand for parts to make ventilators.


Carolyn Ray


Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at