Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy
(CPAP) uses a machine to help a person who has obstructive
sleep apnea (OSA) breathe more easily during sleep. A
CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn't
collapse when you breathe in. When you use CPAP, your bed partner may sleep
You use CPAP at home every night while you sleep. The
CPAP machine will have one of the following:
A mask that covers your nose and mouth.
A mask that
covers your nose only—called nasal continuous positive airway pressure, or
NCPAP (this type of mask is most common).
Overall, CPAP is effective for
moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea:
Research shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
decreases daytime sleepiness, especially in those who have moderate to severe sleep
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.4, 5, 6
CPAP is better than other nonsurgical
methods for treating obstructive sleep apnea.7
coronary artery disease who use CPAP for sleep apnea are less likely to have
heart problems such as heart failure.8
Problems that may occur with CPAP
Nightmares and excessive dreaming during early
Dry nose and sore throat.
congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
Irritation of the eyes and
the skin on the face.
Leaks around the mask because it doesn't fit
Nosebleeds are a rare complication of
You can expect mild discomfort in the
morning when you first start using CPAP. Talk with your doctor if you don't
feel comfortable after a few days.
Relieving side effects
You may be able to limit or
stop some of the side effects:
nose is runny or congested, talk with your doctor about using decongestants or
corticosteroid nasal spray medicines.
Your doctor may be able to adjust your CPAP
to reduce or eliminate problems.
Be sure the mask or nasal prongs
fit you properly. Air shouldn't leak around the mask.
humidifier or a corticosteroid nasal spray medicine to reduce nasal irritation
You may want to talk to your doctor about trying other types of CPAP machines.
One type of machine will start with a low air pressure and slowly increase the
air pressure as you fall asleep. This kind of machine can help reduce
discomfort caused by too much constant pressure in your nose.
bilevel positive airway pressure machine (BiPAP) uses a different air pressure when you breathe in than when you breathe
out. BiPAP may work better than standard CPAP for treating
obstructive sleep apnea in people who have
You may find BiPAP more comfortable than CPAP because you can breathe out against a lower air pressure. As a result, you may be more likely to continue the treatment.
You will have to spend the night at a sleep laboratory to find the air pressure levels that work best for you.
An auto-titrating continuous positive airway pressure (APAP) can automatically decrease or increase the air pressure as needed. This may make the machine more comfortable and easier to use.
What To Think About
When you are using CPAP, you need
to see your doctor or sleep specialist regularly. You may also need more
sleep studies to adjust the CPAP machine and check
whether the treatment is working.
The machines are expensive. You
may be able to rent a CPAP machine before you buy it. In some cases, you may be
able to rent-to-own a CPAP machine.
BiPAP and APAP machines are usually more expensive than CPAP machines.
The most common problem with
CPAP is that people don't use the machine every night. Or they take off the
mask during the night because it becomes uncomfortable. Even one night of not
using the machine can make you sleepy the next day.
You might not
use the machine daily, or you might even stop using it because:
You don't like wearing a mask because of nasal
The machine is noisy.
It may discourage
intimacy with your sleeping partner, even though you use the machine only while
you are sleeping.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved
some brands of portable CPAP machines. You may be able to
take a smaller CPAP machine on vacations or other types of
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.