Sleep apnea treatment
Feb, 15 2023
What is CPAP therapy and how does it work?
CPAP therapy benefits, possible side effects and how the therapy works
CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a therapy that enables people with breathing problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and chronic snoring, to breathe more easily as they sleep.
CPAP is considered to be a leading treatment for people with OSA. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) refers to it as being the OSA treatment of choice, and it recommends that it be a therapy option for all people with OSA.1,2
In the United States, it has been reported that 4% of men and 2% of women meet the criteria for symptomatic OSA. More recently, prevalence has been reported to be as high as 14% of men and 5% of women in the United States.6
OSA can have serious implications on your health, family, and day-to-day activities, including your ability to work.3 Read more about the symptoms of sleep apnea here.
During CPAP therapy, the device takes in room air and blows it out at a pressure set to accommodate your individual needs. The pressure level is prescribed by a doctor. The constant air pressure keeps the airway open and obstruction free, enabling you to breathe uninterrupted during sleep. The device also tracks your therapy results.2
CPAP is not a cure for OSA, but a therapy used to treat the condition. To experience relief from your OSA, the therapy must be delivered every time you sleep – it is not a one-off solution.
It is important you take time to get to know your CPAP equipment. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider questions so you can familiarize yourself with all the parts of the device and be comfortable with how they work.
CPAP therapy comprises a mask connected to a CPAP machine via a tube.
Combined, these components treat OSA, which is a condition caused by a blockage of the airway. This condition occurs when the soft tissue in the upper airway blocks the flow of air in and out of the nose and mouth when the muscles in your throat relax during sleep. OSA can be associated with other health problems, such as high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness and stroke, and it can affect your brain activity and mood.1
CPAP therapy is found to be very effective in keeping the airway open in people with OSA. It has been associated with the following beneficial clinical outcomes for people with sleep-disordered breathing.1,2
Although CPAP therapy can be effective in reducing the symptoms of OSA, some issues can arrive with the constant use of the device. However, CPAP therapy is considered a safe and noninvasive method of managing OSA. It is important you remain compliant with the treatment. Inconsistency could result in worsening OSA symptoms.
Some of the common side effects of CPAP therapy are:1,4,5
These effects can be mitigated by:
using the CPAP device for short periods initially, and acclimatizing to the therapy
using padding and making sure the mask fits well
keeping the equipment clean
using a humidifier
using nasal saline spray.
Your sleep clinic will help you choose the right CPAP equipment for you.
There are several device types. Each one has different comfort and lifestyle settings. This enables you to personalize the therapy.
Most devices offer humidification, but there is also an option of selecting a standalone humidifier that can supplement your CPAP machine.
Your close interaction with your mask makes it one of the most important components of your CPAP therapy.
However, it can be the trickiest part of the CPAP therapy setup to get right. Read more about which type of CPAP mask is right for you.
CPAP machines provide pressure by using a motor to allow room air (not oxygen) to be taken in through a filter and pressurized according to settings prescribed by your healthcare professional.1
Having a better understanding of how CPAP therapy works, including the different components of the system and the technology behind it, may help to improve your results of CPAP therapy. Read more about how CPAP therapy works.
1 Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea Task Force of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Clinical guideline for the evaluation, management and long-term care of obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Journal of clinical sleep medicine. 2009 Jun 15;5(3):263-76.
2 Positive Airway Pressure Titration Task Force of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Clinical guidelines for the manual titration of positive airway pressure in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2008 Apr 15;4(2):157-71.
3 Getsy JE, Dinges DF. Objective Measurement of Patterns of Nasal CPAP Use by Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. AMERICAN REVIEW OF RESPIRATORY DISEASE. 1993;147:887-95.
4 Hiestand DM, Britz P, Goldman M, Phillips B. Prevalence of symptoms and risk of sleep apnea in the US population. Chest. 2006 Sep 1;130(3):780-6.
5 Netzer NC, Hoegel JJ, Loube D, Netzer CM, Hay B, Alvarez-Sala R, Strohl KP, Sleep in Primary Care International Study Group. Prevalence of symptoms and risk of sleep apnea in primary care. Chest. 2003 Oct 1;124(4):1406-14.
6 Garvey JF, Pengo MF, Drakatos P, Kent BD. Epidemiological aspects of obstructive sleep apnea. J Thorac Dis 7: 920–929.
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