Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a very common treatment for sleep apnea. The technology consists of a small box, about the size of a breadbox that is plugged into the wall and generates air pressure in a quiet way.
When the air pressure comes out of the machine, it goes into a hose and from the hose to a mask that is typically worn around the nose and mouth. From the mask, the air pressure travels behind the soft palate and the tongue and prevents the airway from collapsing. This usually can be done at a very low pressure.
There are different kinds of positive airway pressure machines targeting different kinds of patients. The most common type machine is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This type of device provides a consistent (continuous) amount of pressure throughout a person’s breathing. This approach is oriented toward people with obstructive sleep apnea who have an airway that simply needs to stay open.
If a person different levels of pressure during the night or from day-to-day, the auto CPAP machine can automatically change pressure levels over the course of the night. There are even versions of Auto CPAP that are designed for people with complex or mixed sleep apnea that evaluate whether the machine user is breathing from breath to breath. If the amount of a given breath is either too little or too big, the machine will adjust its pressure accordingly.
Some people need more or less pressure compared to others in terms of how much pressure it takes to keep the airway open. The overall objective that most physicians follow is to use the lowest amount of pressure required to keep the airway open. The lower the amount of pressure, typically the more comfortable using the machine will be.
CPAP as the Gold Standard
As a treatment for sleep apnea, CPAP is typically considered to be the gold standard, because of its effectiveness as a treatment. Typically, as soon as it is used, the airway will remain open and the user will feel the benefits after even the first night.
One advantage of CPAP is that it’s able to be used by people of all severities of sleep apnea. It’s really a question of personalizing the setting of the machine to keep the airway open at night while maximizing the comfort of the patient.
Drawbacks with CPAP
The main drawback with CPAP is that sometimes, people don’t get used to the machine right away. It can take 2 to 6 weeks for people to get used to it, and since it’s something that someone should use everyday, it’s similar to glasses in that once someone needs to wear glasses she needs to wear them everyday. CPAP doesn’t cure sleep apnea just like glasses don’t cure poor vision, but as long as someone uses CPAP appropriately, the condition is completely addressed.