CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) setups come in different forms, and they offer varying benefits based on their function. CPAP masks are fitted professionally, and the right amount of airway pressure for a good night's sleep depends on the result of the wearer's sleep study. However, choices can still be made concerning CPAP machine setups for maximum comfort or addressing other needs, such as ensuring user compliance.
CPAP machines help users breathe during sleep with minimal disruption and are a primary treatment for sleep apnea, a condition that can cause the throat and airway to close during sleep. When using a CPAP device, room temperature air is forced at varying degrees of pressure through the hose and into a mask that's snugly fitted around the wearer's nose and mouth. The added air pressure helps keep the throat and airway open.
These types of machines are available with extra features, such as humidifiers or a heated hose. Most regular machines have adjustable airflows, and there are a few ways to adjust the airflow pressure.
A fixed-pressure CPAP device has one constant airflow pressure that's set by the user's physician. These machines deliver a low air pressure flow when first put on, steadily increasing as the wearer falls asleep. Eventually, the device reaches the prescribed level of expiratory pressure to maintain regular airflow pressure during inhalation. It then reduces pressure upon exhale, to make breathing out easier.
An auto-adjusting CPAP machine changes the airflow throughout the night in response to the wearer's sleep position and sleep stage. This helps preserve the necessary deep, slow breaths of REM sleep while maintaining the shorter breathing of other sleep stages.
Bilevel air pressure (BiPAP) machines work better for users who have trouble adjusting to the airflow pressure of other types. These devices have two pressure settings, higher when the user inhales and lower on exhalation, to help with breathing comfort. Bilateral devices are most useful for people who require a higher pressure to treat sleep apnea, without making it unduly difficult to exhale.
Some of the most common side effects of using CPAP therapy are nosebleeds, dry throat and nasal passages, and congestion. Users who have allergies or chronic rhinitis are even more susceptible to these side effects. The dry, room-temperature air from the CPAP device aggravates these conditions, and in some cases, can lead the user to remove the mask during sleep or stop using the machine altogether. Greater compliance with CPAP treatment is the main goal of devices outfitted with a humidifier and heated hose.
Humidifier elements heat the air and add a bit of moisture. This is more soothing to nasal passages and may help contribute to longer and more restful sleep.
In general, humidifiers are often recommended for people who have asthma and chronic allergies, conditions that may contribute to the onset of sleep apnea in the first place. When they experience more consistent breathing of humid air, some CPAP device users may even find greater relief from their asthma and allergies.
To prevent the buildup of mineral deposits in your equipment, use distilled water in you humidifier. Distilled water has the minerals removed and can be purchased in most any grocery store. If you wish to avoid lugging water from the store, use a countertop water distiller and manufacture the distilled water right in your home.
When heated air from the humidifier travels through a room-temperature hose, the air gradually cools. This forms condensation on the interior of the hose, which builds up throughout the night. The condensation can get into the user's airways and irritate the lungs. Or a sudden splash in the face of the accumulated condensation (a "rainout") can wake up the user. Heated hoses on a humidified CPAP machine protect users from these effects.
In addition to the "rainout wake-up" and the dangers of getting water into the lungs, a CPAP hose with condensation is the perfect environment for bacteria and mold to grow, and mold is extremely dangerous when inhaled. Users who prefer the humidity setting on their CPAP device should use a heated hose to maintain the air temperature and humidity from the machine.
One of the chief challenges of using a CPAP device with a heated hose and humidifier is keeping the machine clean. The hose, especially, due to the tight confines and the buildup of moisture, can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Making sure that the hose and the CPAP unit itself remain clean and dry helps keep the user from becoming sick. It also prolongs the life of the machine by reducing wear and tear.
It's essential for users who live in regions with hard water or sediment in the water to keep the reservoir clean and decalcified and ensure that the machine's components remain buildup free. Bear in mind that the kinds of cleaning chemicals used to reduce buildup on bathroom fixtures in the home are probably not suitable for CPAP hoses. Users should ask their doctor or follow the recommendations from the CPAP machine manufacturer about the best ways to clean the machine.
Travel-friendly CPAP machines are smaller versions of a standard device, usually without extra features, that still offer a regular machine's main benefits. These are helpful when users are limited on space for their larger apparatus. However, not all travel machines have auto-adjusting airflow or extra features, like a heated hose or humidifier.
Every person is different, and sometimes it might take a user a couple of tries to find the CPAP equipment that works for them. In addition, a sleeper's needs can change over time, either due to allergies, weight loss or weight gain, or changes in their health condition. Understanding the differences between CPAP setups can help those new to CPAP devices work with their specialist physicians to find the best option for their situation to get the sleep they need.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.