I have sleep apnea, a potentially fatal disease. It’s roughly as serious as diabetes in terms of what it can do to your life and body.
Fortunately, like diabetes sleep apnea can be treated. The preferred treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
I’ve been using a CPAP for about 8 years. It’s been a life-changer for me, and I’m deeply grateful to the developers. I have more energy and enjoy life much more than I did without it.
Yet traveling with my home CPAP feels like toting a concrete block.
It’s big, awkward, requires an additional travel bag, needs distilled water for use with the humidifier (try doing that for sleeping on a plane with your CPAP, or finding distilled water at your destination if flying), and takes a fair amount of time to set up and put away.
I have a love/not-quite-hate relationship with my CPAP. Love it on the bedside table, grudgingly accept it when traveling.
Looking at travel CPAPs
I’ve had my eye on small travel CPAPs, which have been on the market for years. This chart compares several. As I read the reviews of the older ones, I wasn’t impressed. They always seemed to me to be a step or two behind their larger siblings.
Recently, some of the biggest CPAP companies, Philips and ResMed , have come out with travel CPAPs. Since I already have a Philips Dreamstation, I was particularly interested in their Dreamstation Go.
However, the Go is bigger than the AirMini, and at this writing doesn’t offer humidification. I wanted humidification and something small that would take the minimum space in a backpack or underseat luggage.
How to evaluate?
Imagine buying a pair of shoes, not being allowed to try them before paying, and being stuck with them if they don’t fit. That’s what buying a CPAP online is like, except the CPAP costs a lot more than most shoes.
In my research, rarely have I found CPAPs sold with a money-back guarantee. Given the concerns expressed in online reviews about most CPAPs, and the AirMini in particular, I would not have risked investing in one only to find it didn’t work well for me.
However, I saw an ad on Facebook for Lofta, which offers a 30 day money-back guarantee on the AirMini. After checking the company out, and talking with the CEO Jay Levitt, I bought an AirMini with accessories from Lofta. After trying it out I have decided to keep it.
Comparing the AirMini with my home CPAP
Since I’ve traveled with my home CPAP, a Dreamstation, and since that inspired me to get a travel CPAP, I think it’s fair to compare the two. I’m not dissing the Dreamstation, which serves me very well at home. Rather, I’m using the Dreamstation as an example of the size and weight of CPAP machines meant for home use.
Let me start by saying that they both do the job of reducing my “apnea events” enough to provide successful treatment.
AirMini is $880 with HumidX humidifier disk. Approx. 5.4 in x 3.3 x 2.1, 37.4 cubic inches. Weight is .66 pounds. 20 watt power supply is 3.5 in x 1.4 W x 2 inches, 9.8 cubic inches, and weighs .45 pounds. HumidX module weighs .012 pounds. Total weight=1.12 pounds. Total cubic inches=47.2.
Dreamstation is $828 with heated humidifier. Approx. 11.7 in x 7.6 in x 3.3 in with humidifier, 293 cubic inches. Weight with humidifier 4.37 pounds. 80 watt power supply with cord is 5.5 in x 2.75 in x 1.5, 22.7 cubic inches. Weight is 1.21 pounds with cord. Total weight=5.58 pounds. Total cubic inches=315.7.
The Dreamstation weighs about 5 times as much as the AirMini, and is 6.7 times as big. The Dreamstation power supply alone weighs more than the AirMini with power supply.
The AirMini with power supply could fit in a purse or coat pockets. You’d need a backpack for the Dreamstation and power supply.
Questions and concerns
Having conclusively demonstrated how much smaller the AirMini is than a full-size CPAP, I’ll address questions and concerns derived from my own experience and online reviews.
Overall price and value
The AirMini costs about the same as the Dreamstation with heated humidifier, and is functionally equivalent. There are several other small CPAPs which cost less.
With the necessary mask and hose, the AirMini is about $1,000. That’s a lot of money. Insurance might cover it if it were your primary machine, but you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket if it’s your secondary machine.
Is it worth it?
You probably don’t need the AirMini. You can travel with your primary machine at no additional cost. Your home CPAP will work just fine at your destination, and you’re used to it. If you’re traveling by air, you will not be able to transport much distilled water for the humidifier, and will have to acquire that at your destination. I’ve done all of that.
I’m surprised at how much I love not having to carry a separate bag with a big clunky CPAP, and not having to find distilled water for the humidifier en route. Too, packing and setup of the AirMini is much easier because there is no need to drain and refill a humidifier, nor to wrestle with a large power brick with cords coming out each end.
I’m buying a sense of freedom and ease with the AirMini. It’s worth it to me.
If you are flying long distances and need a CPAP to sleep safely in flight, the AirMini (or perhaps another small CPAP) could make a big difference to you. For you it may be a matter of necessity. Note that your airline may not permit you to use your CPAP plugged in to their power; you’ll need a battery.
A frequent concern is that the AirMini only works with three masks at this time. Quoting ResMed:
The AirFit™ F20 AirFit™ N20 AirFit™ P10 for AirMini™ AirTouch™ F20 are the only masks designed to work with the AirMini. Other masks do not work with the AirMini’s ActiveAir and HumidX technologies.
ResMed sells a nasal pillow mask (P10), nasal surround mask (N20) and full face mask (F20). If one of those don’t work for you, forget the AirMini. (Someone wrote online about hacking a hose to use other masks, so it may be possible for you to use other masks without the HumidX). At this writing the F20 does not work with the HumidX.
Like others, I was worried about having such a limited mask selection. However, we don’t need access to all the available masks, just to one mask that works really well.
Lofta’s 30 day money-back guarantee enabled me to try the whole system, with the mask recommended by Jay Levitt, the CEO. He raved about the N20 and encouraged me to try that instead of the P10 to which I had been inclined. Jay also offered to work with me to get the best AirMini mask for me if the N20 didn’t work out.
I tried the N20 and love it. Best mask ever for me, and I’ve tried many. I replaced the mask I used with my home CPAP, the Dreamstation, with the N20.
In my view, you won’t know about whether the limited mask selection will work for you unless you try it.
All CPAP machines make some noise. My Dreamstation is amazingly quiet, though.
The tiny CPAP machines generally make more noise than do the larger home models, and this is true for the AirMini as well. Online reviews suggest that its noise level is in the ballpark of the other small CPAPs.
The AirMini’s noise doesn’t come from the CPAP machine itself, but rather from an air vent that is part of the humidification system (more on that below). The noise is a hiss of expelled air, and varies with the breathing cycle. The AirMini’s noise is a deal breaker for some. I strongly suggest that you try it with the ability to return it if you don’t like it. Lofta is one of the dealers that permits return.
I always sleep with earplugs, and those make the AirMini’s noise tolerable to me. I think it would be too loud for me otherwise. FYI, my pressure is usually around 10.
Many people want humidification with their CPAP machines. Otherwise, the continual flow of blower-driven dry air dries out the mucus membranes. Some find that a saline solution suffices.
ResMed’s solution is HumidX, described as a “small heat and moisture exchanger (HME).” This works fine for me, better than I thought it would. And it is amazingly smaller and more convenient than an attached humidifier with distilled water.
Sounds too good to be true, but there is a cost to this magic.
ResMed says to discard the HumidX 30 days after opening the package.
This means that if you take a week long trip, and don’t use the AirMini for another four weeks, you should open another cartridge.
The cartridges cost $34 for three, which is more than distilled water for the Dreamstation costs. To be fair, the Dreamstation humidifier tank is supposed to be replaced twice a year at a cost of $50 total, and distilled water would cost about $6/year (estimating half a gallon/month usage).
So call it $136/year for humidification for the AirMini vs $56/year for the Dreamstation, if you are using the AirMini at least monthly.
Why the 30 day expiration on the HumidX? According to an apparently informed source in an online discussion, there may be hygroscopic salts in the HumidX which get depleted by continual exposure to the air, and bacterial growth may also be a concern. Too, perhaps ResMed is not displeased to have another consumable item to sell.
As an experiment, when not using my AirMini I’m storing the HumidX in a little glass canning jar, which has a gasketed lid, with silica gel dessicant packs. This arrangement isn’t likely to reduce bacterial growth (if any), but may absorb water in the air and provide longer usable life for the HumidX.
If you do this, remember to air the HumidX cartridge thoroughly after keeping it in the jar with the silica gel dessicant. I did this by running air through the AirMini for about 15 minutes, with the decanted HumidX in place, without wearing the mask.
I’m not happy with the cost of the HumidX cartridges, but I’m not outraged. For me that is an acceptable tradeoff for the convenience of the system.
After using the AirMini for over a year, I don’t bother with the HumidX cartridges. I don’t notice, and am not bothered by, the lack of humidification. I’m surprised by this, but glad to have one less cost and hassle.
Here are some areas mentioned in reviews and online forums that don’t bother me, but that I’ll touch on.
There is no screen on the AirMini, so you need to pair with a smartphone or tablet, and use their app to setup the device as well as to evaluate your progress. I actually prefer this to the somewhat awkward display on my Dreamstation, so it’s not a problem for me.
Lofta (and others) offer various solutions for portable power for the AirMini. I’ve run mine off a portable power station, and using the Resmed 12 volt to AirMini power supply, and both of these work fine. Here is Lofta’s comprehensive power solution offering.
Compliance reports often are needed for insurance coverage. There’s no SD card slot, and no apparent way to generate compliance reports. ResMed says to ask your provider about this, implying that they can be had.
Some people like to use the Sleepyhead software to explore the nuances of their usage. At this point it doesn’t seem feasible to obtain historical data from the AirMini for this use.
People have expressed concern that the AirMini, being small and light, could be tugged off the bedside table by movement in the night. That hasn’t been a problem for me. The hose seems to absorb the impact of my movement. ResMed does have a clever and to my mind costly accessory to handle this, should you find it to be a problem.
ResMed emphasizes that the AirMini is an integrated “turnkey solution for therapy on the go.” I think this is true.
The system has been intentionally simplified and made very compact. This reduces consumer choice on masks, has some additional costs, and has the other potential drawbacks mentioned above, the most significant for me being mask noise.
If you’re interested in it, and can afford it, I encourage you to try the AirMini and equally importantly, one or more of the masks. The AirMini system could free you as it has me from lugging around a home CPAP machine, while maintaining successful treatment as you travel.