A continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine is a commonly utilized device prescribed by a doctor for treating various sleep apnea disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) creates pauses or interruptions in your breathing while sleeping because your airways momentarily collapse or there is some form of blockage.
The CPAP machine sends a regular flow of oxygen into your mouth and nose as you sleep to improve ventilation. This helps you breathe normally by keeping the airways open, the same as when you are awake.
If you are curious about how a CPAP machine works, the pros and cons of utilizing this type of equipment, and other related information, keep reading!
How a CPAP Works
The modern CPAP follows the same principles as the original equipment from the early 1980s. The primary difference is air pressure is generated using quieter and smaller motors and room air is passed through a filter and pressurized.
CPAPs were engineered to provide pressure from 4 centimeters of water pressure (CWP) to 25 CWP. With most machines, the air is passed through a heated humidifier and transported through tubing to the mask. The consistent airflow creates an upper airway cushion that prevents the throat from collapsing and stops the tongue, uvula and soft palate from moving into the airway creating a blockage. Additionally, the equipment decreases the vibration because of snoring.
CPAP machines also have a residual impact such as clearing mucus from the airway and relieving swelling within the nose. Since the airway is being supported, normal breathing occurs, and sleep quality improves due to the elimination of fragmented sleep. Furthermore, oxygen levels can be maintained, and major consequences related to sleep apnea can be avoided.
Another type of CPAP machine is the automated version which slightly varies in that it can detect an airway collapse based on a measurement of resistance. The equipment automatically reacts by raising the required pressure throughout the night to eliminate sleep apnea. The device also adjusts to lower pressures when required.
Components of a CPAP Machine
While there are slightly different CPAP machine types, the components are consistent and include:
- Adjustable straps for a customized fit
- Cushioned mask
- Elbow pieces
- Headgear frame
- The motor inside a base unit
- The tube connecting the mask and motor
Several types of CPAP masks exist so the type you wear depends on the type of sleep apnea disorder you have, the comfortability of the mask, and your breathing habits. The types of masks include:
- Full Mask – This mask type has a triangular shape that covers your mouth and nose. If you tend to breathe through your mouth while sleeping or have some nose blockage, your doctor will likely recommend this type.
- Nasal Mask – The nasal mask is a cushioned variant that covers the entire nose. It is the best option for those who shift around in their sleep. Also, this mask type delivers a high-pressure airstream.
- Nasal Pillow Mask – This mask type features a small cushion that covers the nostril area and sometimes has prongs to fit into the nostrils. The purpose of this mask type is it allows you to easily wear glasses and works best for those with facial hair that could normally prevent a snug mask fitting.
Pros and Cons of a CPAP Machine
As with all treatment types, there are various pros and cons related to using a CPAP machine. Here are several of the most important:
The benefits are well documented by the medical community. Since these devices provide a continuous supply of oxygen throughout the night, they prevent breathing interruptions that are the basis of sleep apnea. The longer you use a CPAP machine, the more of the following benefits are applicable.
- Could reduce cholesterol and glucose levels.
- Improves your sleep without waking up.
- Lowers your blood pressure.
- Lowers your risk of a stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular ailment.
- Reduces daytime crashes and tiredness.
While CPAP machines prevent breathing interruptions, there are several cons to using this device, including:
- Dry mouth.
- Difficulty or discomfort while falling asleep.
- Feeling of being bloated with air.
- Feeling of claustrophobia or anxiety.
- Nasal congestion.
- Skin sores or irritation due to prolonged exposure of the mask to your face.
Treating Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is pausing in breathing that occurs due to a lack of breathing effort, not the collapse of an airway. This commonly occurs as a secondary side effect from opioid medication use, congestive heart failure, or stroke. In some instances, it can occur due to the use of a CPAP machine within a condition known as complex sleep apnea.
In this instance, a CPAP machine should not be used, thus opting for bilevel therapy, which delivers two pressures – one to breathe in and one out – with the equipment adjusting the pressure throughout the night. Another treatment type is known as adaptive servo-ventilation, which controls the timing, volume, and breath rate of airflow.
CPAP machines are proven to treat sleep apnea by transporting oxygenated air throughout your airways using a tube and mask. This pressurized air stops your airways from closing resulting in continuous breathing while sleeping. Several types of CPAP machines exist and the version your healthcare provider recommends depends on your sleeping and breathing habits, your comfortability, and the sleep apnea type.
CPAP machines are uncomfortable for many users, especially in the beginning. If the device does now work well, then speak to a medical professional about other treatment options that could help keep your airways open during sleep.