Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is pressure that is delivered into your airway by a machine.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine
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CPAP is used
to keep the airway open and allow air to more easily move in and out of your lungs. It is used most often to manage
obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a period of time during sleep when breathing is blocked. This can happen several times each night. CPAP is considered to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. It may help to: Decrease daytime sleepiness
high blood pressureDecrease heartburn symptomsImprove quality of life
CPAP may also be used in preterm infants. Under-developed lungs can be a common problem in preterm infants. CPAP can help support the infant's lungs until they can develop fully. It may prevent or decrease the need for more invasive treatments or medications.
This article is focused on CPAP for sleep apnea.
Most patients who use CPAP report at least 1 side effect. The first night using a CPAP machine can be difficult. You may even sleep worse at first. It is important to prepare for this adjustment. Talk with your doctor about steps you can take to minimize any discomfort.
CPAP is considered safe. Talk to your doctor about potential complications, such as:
A feeling of
or suffocation from wearing the face mask
Rash or pressure sores in the area of the face mask
Nasal congestion and
conjunctivitisSore or dry throatHeadachesAbdominal bloatingChest muscle discomfort
Your doctor may request that you: Have a complete physical examHave a stay in a sleep lab to determine the correct amount of airway pressure for youSee a pulmonologist or an ear, nose, and throat specialistQuit smokingLose weightStart a regular exercise program
Following your stay in a sleep lab, you will be prescribed a CPAP machine.
The CPAP machine includes a pump and a face mask.
The pump sits off the bed and has a tube that goes to the face mask. The face mask will be tightly secured to your head so that air will not leak out. The pump will force air through your airway to help keep it open. You will need to wear the face mask to bed every night.
The machine will be used for as long as it is needed.
Some have reported chest muscle discomfort. Talk with your doctor about the best way for you to relieve any discomfort.
CPAP machines will be used at home.
Stopping use of the CPAP will most likely cause symptoms of sleep apnea to return. Follow the instructions for the care and cleaning of your machine and mask.
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs: Cough or difficulty breathingChest painLightheadednessHeadacheEar pain that increases when using the CPAP machineDifficulty adjusting to the machine, beyond what is expected
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Chowdhuri S. Continuous positive airway pressure for the treatment of sleep apnea.
Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America.
What is CPAP? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cpap. Updated December 13, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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