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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy uses a machine to help a person who has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) breathe more easily during sleep. A CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in. When you use CPAP, your bed partner may sleep better too.
CPAP is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is the first treatment choice for adults and the most widely used.
You use CPAP at home every night while you sleep. The CPAP machine will have one of the following:
- A mask that covers your nose and mouth.
- A mask that covers your nose only—called nasal continuous positive airway pressure, or NCPAP (this type of mask is most common).
- Prongs that fit into your nose.
How Well It Works
CPAP is effective for treating sleep apnea:
- Research shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) decreases daytime sleepiness, especially in those who have moderate to severe sleep apnea.
- Studies show that in people who have moderate to severe sleep apnea, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) lowers blood pressure during both the day and the night.
- CPAP is better than other nonsurgical methods for treating obstructive sleep apnea.
- People with coronary artery disease who use CPAP for sleep apnea are less likely to have heart problems such as heart failure.
Need help with CPAP equipment?
Problems that may occur with CPAP include:
- Excessive dreaming during early use.
- Dry nose and sore throat.
- Nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
- Irritation of the eyes and the skin on the face.
- Abdominal bloating.
- Leaks around the mask because it doesn’t fit properly.
- Nosebleeds are a rare complication of CPAP.
When you are using CPAP, you need to see your doctor or sleep specialist regularly. For best results, keep the machine clean. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the equipment. The most common problem with CPAP is that people don’t use the machine every night.
Relieving side effects
You may be able to limit or stop some of the side effects:
- If your nose is runny or congested, talk with your doctor about using decongestants or corticosteroid nasal spray medicines.
- Your doctor may be able to adjust your CPAP to reduce or eliminate problems.
- Be sure the mask or nasal prongs fit you properly. Air shouldn’t leak around the mask.
- Use a humidifier or a corticosteroid nasal spray medicine to reduce nasal irritation and drainage.
- You may want to talk to your doctor about trying other types of CPAP machines.
- One type of machine will start with a low air pressure and slowly increase the air pressure as you fall asleep. This kind of machine can help reduce discomfort caused by too much constant pressure in your nose.
- A bilevel positive airway pressure machine (BiPAP) uses a different air pressure when you breathe in than when you breathe out. BiPAP may work better than standard CPAP for treating obstructive sleep apnea in people who have heart failure. You may find BiPAP more comfortable than CPAP because you can breathe out against a lower air pressure. As a result, you may be more likely to continue the treatment.
- An auto-titrating continuous positive airway pressure (APAP) can automatically decrease or increase the air pressure as needed. This may make the machine more comfortable and easier to use.