American Sleep Association

CPAP

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, a therapy that slightly increases the pressure of the air being inhaled. Positive airway pressure therapy can be used to treat snoring, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, and respiratory failure.1 Since CPAP is used to treat breathing disorders that occur during sleeping hours, CPAP machines are sometimes referred to as sleep equipment.

Why CPAP Machines Work

A CPAP machine produces a slight increase in air pressure relative to the surroundings. The increase in pressure is very slight, around one half to two percent more pressure than the surrounding air.2 This slight increase is all that is required for CPAP therapy to be effective.

Take snoring and sleep apnea, for example. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are the result of the soft tissues in the airway becoming relaxed during sleep. When the airway is partially blocked, the result can be snoring. When it is completely blocked, the cessation of breathing is what is called obstructive sleep apnea.

Oftentimes, with both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, very little pressure is needed to keep the airways clear. This is why continuous positive airway pressure is effective; a small boost can keep soft tissues from partially or completely obstructing night time airflow.

How CPAP Machines Work

A continuous positive airway pressure machine is a small appliance that can fit on or in a normal nightstand or a specially designed CPAP nightstand. A small but quiet air pump provides slightly pressurized air which is delivered through a facemask or mouth and nose pieces. The fitted facemask or mouth and nose pieces are attached to the bedside CPAP machine with a ribbed tube.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the mask versus individual tubes implementation. A mask may be easier to put on, but the larger area of skin contact may be uncomfortable and cause rubbing. The tubes need to be firmly fitted in each nostril and in the mouth, which may also be uncomfortable. If one of the tubes comes loose during the night, it may be unrealistic to expect a sleepy individual to successfully reinsert a finicky nasal tube. .

One of the most common reported drawbacks of CPAP therapy is dry nose or mouth upon waking. This is why the machine or appliance part of the CPAP device may include an integrated humidifier. An inline humidifier, which sits between the beside machine and the tube that leads to the face mask may also be used.

An additional refinement of positive airway pressure therapy is BiPAP therapy, or bilevel positive airway pressure therapy. These machines are very similar to CPAP machines, except they have two different levels of air pressure that correspond to the inhale and exhale of a breath.

FAQs

What are the signs that someone might need a CPAP machine?

Someone that exhibits sleep apnea symptoms, such as morning headaches, irritability or sleepiness during the day, might benefit from CPAP therapy. If you suspect you or someone you know may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, try making a sound recording of them overnight, which may reveal whether their breathing is stopping temporarily. Snoring that stops abruptly, or the sound of gasping, are signs that someone might benefit from CPAP therapy.

Does CPAP use oxygen?

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy does not require oxygen canisters to be of therapeutic value. A CPAP machine uses the surrounding atmosphere as the source for the air that is delivered to the CPAP user.

What does CPAP mean?

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The name describes the parameters in which the machine functions. A CPAP machine provides continuous pressure that is positive relative to the surrounding environment. Furthermore, this continuous positive pressure is delivered directly to the airways with a facemask.

How can a CPAP be harmful?

CPAP therapy is very safe, so long as the CPAP machine is kept in good working order. A dirty CPAP mask, hose, or machine itself can harbor bacteria or mold, so care should be taken to clean these components regularly. Other possible side effects of using a CPAP machine may be caused by the mask rubbing on the nose or face while sleeping, or the mouth or sinuses feeling dry from the increase in airflow while sleeping.

Can I use my partner’s CPAP if I’m snoring too?

You should take care about using your partner’s CPAP machine, as the face mask or nose and mouth pieces can harbor bacteria. Sharing a CPAP mask is like sharing a toothbrush. Most people would recoil at the thought of sharing a toothbrush, even with a close partner.

 

Resources

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001916.htm

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