More than 12 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, a condition that causes a person to miss breaths or have shallow breathing while they sleep. In some cases, the condition can pose a threat to a person’s life. There are many treatments for sleep apnea, ranging from surgery to exercise and diet; however, one of the best treatment methods is a CPAP machine.
Short for continuous positive airway pressure, the CPAP emits continuous and mild airway pressure to keep the patient’s airways from closing while they sleep. It is primarily used to treat sleep apnea, but the CPAP technology can also be found in the neonatal hospital units treating bronchopulmonary dysplasia and respiratory distress syndrome.
There are three parts to the average CPAP machine; the mask, the motor, and the tube, which connects the two. The mask fits securely over the mouth and nose while the person is asleep. There are straps – usually nylon, neoprene, or another synthetic material – that serve to keep the mask securely in place even if the person regularly tosses and turns in the night. The motor blows out a steady stream of air into the tube, which, in turn, flows into the mask.
In one type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, the airways become blocked while a person sleeps, and when air squeezes out of these blocked passageways the result is loud snoring. This can be disruptive to the sleeper and whoever they happen to be sharing a bed with. For some, the snoring causes the biggest disruption to their sleep and leads them to use a CPAP in the first place.
CPAP is a safe and effective treatment method for sleep apnea; however, there are a few risks that one should consider, albeit minor ones. Some side effects to using CPAP include, but are not limited to skin irritation and mask allergies; congestion, sneezing, runny nose, nosebleed, or sinusitis; dry mouth; stomach upset or bloating. There could also be problems with the equipment such as a leak in the mask or air pressure problems.
One of the biggest concerns people usually have before they start using a CPAP is the noise. If the idea is to overcome snoring, many do not want to replace that with a machine roaring in a small space. However, while there is a gentle hum when using the CPAP machine, it is relatively silent. The sound is steady, so most people and their partners find that it is akin to ocean waves. It takes some people a week or so to get used to the sound, but once they do, they no longer notice.
Some CPAP machines offer special features for added comfort. This can include heated humidifiers and even more compact “travel sizes.” These special features do not interfere with the effectiveness of the CPAP machine, but they can make it more comfortable and convenient to use. Since this is a long-term treatment, it is important to choose the right CPAP machine, which will take a little bit of research and asking the doctor or medical equipment technicians for advice.
It is standard practice for your doctor to request to monitor you overnight with a CPAP. This way, they can help you find the best settings for the machine. The important thing is to have enough oxygen flowing to keep your passageway open, but not so much that you get lightheaded. There is a balance that may need to be remedied by staying in a sleep center overnight.
There are many different models of CPAP available. Sometimes it is a process to find the right one, but once you find one that is right for you, you will sleep better, feel better, and breathe better.