Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

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Are you looking for ways on how to get rid of your breathing pauses?

Patients using CPAP commonly describe treatment as….emerging from a daytime fog and being able to live a productive and healthy life.


The first line of treatment for breathing pauses otherwise known as sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). In general, CPAP has the following effects:

  • reverses repetitive upper airway obstruction and associated daytime symptoms
  • reduces automobile accidents
  • reduces health risk

In CPAP, air is forced into your nasal passages using a pressure that is high enough to keep your air passages free from obstruction during inhalation and exhalation.  CPAP comes with a machine, flexible tubing and a mask. Specifically,

  • Most machines are small, lightweight and relatively quiet. You can actually put them on your nightstand or at your bedside.
  • The tubing connects the machine to your mask and it is long enough to allow movement.
  • The mask may cover only your nose or both your nose and mouth. Nasal pillow is an alternative and it fits in your nostrils. What matters most is that it fits well and is comfortable.

Wearing a mask while sleeping will keep your airway open. A good mask seal will prevent air leaks and maintain the right level of air pressure. This eliminates the breathing pauses caused by sleep apnea, so you will not snore or make choking noises while sleeping. You will be able to sleep without your body waking up from a lack of oxygen.

What are the benefits of CPAP?

  • Highly effective if used correctly and regularly
  • Noninvasive (nonsurgical)
  • reduces or eliminates snoring for which your bed partner will have quieter sleep environment
  • normalizes your sleep pattern, enhances alertness and decreases daytime sleepiness
  • Improves your ability to think, concentrate and make decisions which can improve your productivity and decrease your chance of making a costly mistake at work
  • Improves mood which reduces your risk of depression and improve your overall quality of life
  • Reduces incidence and medical expenses of the following:
    • Heart diseases such as High Blood Pressure, Irregular heartbeat, Congestive heart failure and Coronary artery disease.
    • Stroke
    • Diabetes

 Are there any side effects of CPAP?

Yes, CPAP therapy has relatively minor side effects. Most of these problems can be fixed through simple adjustments:

  • Strap marks or skin sores due to a poor mask fit. You can readjust or switch the type of mask, or adjust your mask straps to make sure they are not too tight. You can also buy soft CPAP strap covers to reduce the rubbing of the straps against your skin.
  • Irritation of nose and throat. This can be reduced by the humidifier attached to your CPAP unit which provides cool or heated moisture to the air.
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing. Using a saline nasal spray or nasal decongestant can be used for symptom relief.
  • Most other side effects are relatively rare such as:
    • Device provokes anxiety (especially mask) and therefore more fragmented sleep
    • Mask and headgear trigger claustrophobia
    • Difficulty in breathing out especially if pressure is high
    • Eye irritation if there is mask leak

To avoid developing of side effects, CPAP should be used after evaluation of a sleep specialist who in turn will identify the amount of air pressure needed for CPAP to treat your sleep apnea. Your sleep doctor may also recommend a CPAP titration study to determine the right level to treat your sleep apnea.

Does CPAP have variations?

Yes, there are several forms of positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy other than CPAP and they all keep your airway open as you sleep by providing a stream of air through a mask that you wear:

  • Autotitrating positive airway pressure (APAP) therapy automatically increases or decreases your air pressure as needed during the night.
  • Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) is recommended if you have sleep apnea along with another breathing disorder or if you have a problem with CPAP or APAP.

How will CPAP improve your sleep quality?

  • Begin using your CPAP for short periods of time during the day to get used to wearing your mask.
  • Use CPAP every time you sleep or take a nap.
  • Adjust your mask straps and headgear until you get the fit right.
  • If the pressure feels too high, use the “ramp” mode on your CPAP unit. You should be able to fall asleep before the air pressure reaches its proper level.
  • Clean your mask, tubing and headgear once a week. Put this time in your schedule so that you don’t forget to do it.
  • If you are having problems with your CPAP, you can do the following:
    • find someone to help
    • consider joining a support group
    • talk to the staff at your sleep center.
    • consider cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you identify and overcome fears or concerns that may be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep with CPAP.

CPAP is a lifestyle change and works best when used for the entire time you are sleeping or napping. The more you use CPAP, the better you will feel.



  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2015). Sleep Education. Essentials in Sleep.
  • Henry G. Raroque, MD. (2014). Lecture notes on OSA and CPAP Compliance. The Dallas School of Neuroscience and Sleep Medicine, Texas.


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