Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
CPAP is a small machine that you use at home every night while you sleep. It increases air pressure in your throat to keep your airway open. When you have sleep apnea, this can help you sleep better so you feel much better. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure."
The CPAP machine will have one of the following:
- A mask that covers your nose and mouth
- Prongs that fit into your nose
- A mask that covers your nose only, which is the most common type. This type is called NCPAP. The N stands for "nasal."
What To Expect
It may take time for you to become comfortable with using CPAP. If you can't get used to it, talk to your doctor. You might be able to try another type of mask or make other adjustments.
Why It Is Done
CPAP is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It's the first treatment choice for adults and is the most widely used.
How Well It Works
CPAP works well to treat sleep apnea.
- CPAP is better than other nonsurgical methods for treating obstructive sleep apnea.footnote 1
- Research shows that CPAP decreases daytime sleepiness, especially in those who have moderate to severe sleep apnea.footnote 2, footnote 3, footnote 4
- People who use CPAP for longer times each night (around 7 hours) have less daytime sleepiness and depression and fewer heart issues than people who use CPAP for shorter times (around 5 hours).footnote 5
- People with coronary artery disease who use CPAP for sleep apnea are less likely to have heart problems such as heart failure.footnote 6
- Studies show that in people who have moderate to severe sleep apnea, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) lowers blood pressure during both the day and the night.footnote 7, footnote 8
Some people who use CPAP have:
- A dry or stuffy nose and a sore throat.
- Irritated skin on the face.
- Sore eyes.
Steps you can take
If using CPAP is not comfortable, or if you have certain side effects, work with your doctor to fix them. Here are some things you can try:
- Be sure the mask or nasal prongs fit well.
- See if your doctor can adjust the pressure of your CPAP.
- If your nose is dry, try a humidifier.
- If your nose is runny or stuffy, try decongestant medicine or a steroid nasal spray. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use the medicine longer than the label says.
If these things don't help, you might try a different type of machine. Some machines have air pressure that adjusts on its own. Others have air pressures that are different when you breathe in than when you breathe out. This may reduce discomfort caused by too much pressure in your nose.
- Lam B, et al. (2007). Randomised study of three non-surgical treatments in mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnoea. Thorax, 62(4): 354–359.
- Giles TL, et al. (2006). Continuous positive airways pressure for obstructive sleep apnoea in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
- Hensley M, Ray C (2009). Sleep apnoea, search date May 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Weaver TE, et al. (2012). Continuous positive airway pressure treatment of sleepy patients with milder obstructive sleep apnea: Results of the CPAP Apnea Trial North American Program (CATNAP) randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 186(7): 677–683.
- Bouloukaki I, et al. (2014). Intensive versus standard follow-up to improve continuous positive airway pressure compliance. European Respiratory Journal, 44(5): 1262–1274. DOI: 10.1183/09031936.00021314. Accessed February 5, 2015.
- Milleron O, et al. (2004). Benefits of obstructive sleep apnoea treatment in coronary artery disease: A long-term follow-up study. European Heart Journal, 25(9): 728–734.
- Barbe F, et al. (2010). Long-term effect of continuous positive airway pressure in hypertensive patients with sleep apnea. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 181(7): 718–726.
- Marin JM, et al. (2012). Association between treated and untreated obstructive sleep apnea and risk of hypertension. JAMA, 307(20): 2169–2176.
Current as of: October 26, 2020
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