Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP equipment is the most common and best-used treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Relief from the apnea symptoms is almost immediate and there is a significant improvement in your physical and mental energy levels.

The equipment consists of the CPAP machine, the pillow, and the mask. All these carry enough importance to keep the patient comfortable so that he persists with this therapy.

The machine should be silent and preferably with a humidifier so that after the night’s therapy you shouldn’t land up with a dry throat.

The CPAP pillow should be of the right consistency and height to prevent a stiff neck in the morning.

The CPAP masks come in various types and sizes. You can choose the one that fits your face well and makes you feel most comfortable.

Aim of CPAP therapy

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs due to the blockage of the airways by the collapse of the soft tissues around them. This causes reduced breathing and a fall in oxygen levels in the blood, which can have undesirable health repercussions.

The primary objective of CPAP therapy is to keep the airways open to ensure normal breathing. It does so by applying positive mild air pressure on an uninterrupted basis. It is useful in patients who can breathe on their own but just need help keeping the airways open.

Ultimately, what this therapy does is give you the required hours of sleep with optimum sleep cycles and good hours of deep sleep.

CPAP keeps up the optimum level of oxygen in your blood and ensures you get good sleep.

Other dental devices and surgeries give relief by moving or removing excess tissue around the airway while the CPAP machine increases the pressure of the breathing air to keep the airway open. That is why it is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

Indications and uses

The CPAP machine is primarily a respiratory aid. Besides its use in obstructive sleep apnea, this positive pressure machine is used in preterm infants with respiratory distress syndrome and whose respiratory system is not fully developed.

In March 2020, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States suggested that CPAP devices may be used to support patients affected by COVID-19 with respiratory involvement.

How does the therapy work?

The CPAP sleep apnea machine uses a mask that fits over your mouth and nose or in some cases only over your nose and gently blows air into your throat at a slightly higher adjusted pressure continuously to ensure that the airways stay open and do not collapse.

This adjusted air pressure, also called titrated pressure, is important because it is responsible for accomplishing the desired result of keeping the airways patent and preventing the occurrence of apnea.

Some people may find it uncomfortable to use this CPAP mask during sleep but after a few weeks, they get used to it. A solution for this could be to look for newer models that will cause less discomfort and noise.

One should not stop using the CPAP machine but continue till advised, as you are then vulnerable to sleep apnea complications. Snoring will stop but it does not mean you have been cured of sleep apnea.

Stopping the use of this therapy will make you start snoring again because this therapy does not remove the cause of sleep apnea or cure sleep apnea but only controls it.

How are CPAP equipment and mask used?

Usually, a technician comes to your house at night to fit the CPAP equipment at bedtime. He then fits the CPAP mask snugly over your nose and mouth or just the nose. He also adjusts the machine and the air pump as per the prescription advice of your sleep specialist.

The CPAP machine has a pump that blows air through a tube into your mask. After the machine has been set up, it may need adjustments for a better result.

Do not have caffeine or alcohol on the day and night of the test. 

Types of CPAP masks

CPAP masks come in three basic types:

  • Full face masks cover your nose and mouth
  • Nasal pillow masks supply air directly into your nostrils
  • Nasal masks supply air to the nasal base.

 CPAP air

The CPAP air that you breathe in is adjusted at a slightly higher pressure as prescribed by your sleep specialist. This air under higher pressure forces itself into your lungs and does not allow the airway to collapse and get blocked. Oxygen blood levels are thus adequately maintained.

CPAP pillow

A CPAP pillow is a specially designed pillow that is ideally used along with this apparatus as it provides support and comfort to sleep apnea patients and makes it easier to get good sleep. Most of these pillows are made of memory foam and they do have their benefits.

The pillow keeps the head raised above the body at the right level and also provides support to the neck.

The use of a CPAP pillow also reduces the discomfort that may be caused by the machine. The pillow also allows the patient to roll over on the side and back without disturbing the position of the mask.

Side effects

Some people may experience certain side effects after using the machine. These include:

  • Dry or a blocked nose
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritation of skin over the face
  • Headache
  • Bloating of the stomach if the CPAP has not been fitted properly or the air pressure is slightly high
  • The sound of the CPAP machine may be disturbing. You can keep the machine under the bed to reduce this disturbance.

A major problem with CPAP users is noncompliance with the doctor’s advice. They stop using it or use it only for a part of the night.

However, these side effects can be reduced considerably by your sleep doctor who may adjust the machine settings and or may change the size of the mask so that it fits correctly.

He may also add moisture to the air that flows into your airway by using a humidifier to avoid dryness of mouth and nose. To combat a stuffy nose, a nasal spray may be advised. Using a CPAP pillow will also reduce any discomfort to a great extent.

How effective is CPAP therapy?

The CPAP machine is very effective in eliminating symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and can give significant results even after one night of use.

How long do you have to use CPAP?

For patients of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the fact remains that the use of a CPAP machine removes the risk of sleep apnea dangers to your health.

These risks make you very prone to develop serious health disorders, which makes use of CPAP, a must.

At the moment there is no conservative cure for OSA. Till such a cure comes or surgery for sleep apnea suits you, you should continue to use this therapy on a regular basis. You should also try home remedies and lifestyle improvements that can give some relief from symptoms.