Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are a common and effective way to help people struggling with certain types of sleeping problems.
Over time and with regular use, these devices can improve the sleep quality, eliminate snoring and breathing obstructions and lower blood pressure throughout the day among a host of other benefits.
Nurse Practitioner Ann Clabots, Marshfield Clinic Health System Neurology, offers this breakdown of who CPAP machines are for and what types are available.
Who are CPAP machines for?
Before anyone can be treated with a CPAP machine, they need to be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the tongue and soft tissues in the back of your throat relax, causing the airway to be blocked.
This diagnosis is usually made after undergoing a sleep study. These studies are ordered for individuals who may have a variety of symptoms, including:
- Witnessed sleep apnea.
- Gasping for air.
- Sleep restlessness.
- Frequent nighttime awakenings.
- Dry mouth.
- Chronic morning headaches.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Impaired memory.
Clabots stressed the importance of diagnosing sleep apnea so that treatment can start right away. “Untreated sleep apnea can contribute to one’s overall health,” she said. “It can lead to heart problems such as heart attacks and strokes and can affect the brain and immune system. It also is responsible for poor performance in everyday activities and can put you at greater risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.”
Four types of CPAP machines
The type of machine and the pressure setting for the device are decided on by the certified sleep physician after they review the sleep study data.
Types of CPAP machines available include:
- Basic CPAP: “This machine keeps the pressure constant throughout the night,” Clabots said. “The pressure is the same breathing in and out.”
- Auto CPAP: Adjusts the pressure throughout the night in response to changes such as snoring, body position and sleep stage.
- Auto BiPAP: Clabots notes that this machine gives more pressure during inspiration (breathing in) and less pressure with exhalation (breathing out).
- AutoServo Ventilation: “This machine is used when you have been diagnosed with central sleep apnea,” she said. “This is when the brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. The AutoServo Ventilation machine will give you a breath if it senses you are not going to breathe.“
Three parts make up a CPAP machine
A CPAP machine consists of the motor, the hose and the mask.
CPAP motors are small compressors that draw in room temperature air. The pressure gently rises to deliver the exact amount of air needed to clear the obstruction. The air intake has a replaceable filter that screens out particulates and impurities. “CPAP machines also have a small water tank that can be filled with water to provide moisture to the air,” Clabots said. “This is ideal for people who frequently wake up with a dry month, throat or nasal cavities.”
CPAP hoses transport the pressurized air from the motor to the mask. Most hoses are six feet in length and the diameter varies by device.
CPAP masks come in all shapes and sizes depending on what is most comfortable for the individual.
Some options include:
- Nasal pillows are the smallest masks. They rest on the user’s upper lip and blow pressurized air through two soft nasal tubes. The pillow is secured by straps that wrap around the head. It is ideal for people who want something that is lightweight and doesn’t touch their face too much. Mouth-breathers may want to avoid this one though, as breathing through the nose may feel unnatural and uncomfortable.
- Nasal masks are triangular and cover areas from the bridge of the nose to the upper lip. They provide a more natural airflow and are a great option when high pressure settings are needed. “These work well for someone who moves around a lot in their sleep or likes to sleep on their side,” Clabots said. “But they are not for someone who experiences allergies, colds or medical conditions that block the sinuses.”
- Full face masks cover the nose and mouth areas. They are perfect for patients who have nasal obstructions or frequent congestion. They work well when high pressure settings are needed, but are rather bulky and have a higher chance of air leakage due to the large surface area.
“Size, fit, and comfort are the most important considerations when using a CPAP mask,” Clabots said. “If your mask does not fit or is uncomfortable, it is unlikely you will be compliant with therapy. It may take time to find the best mask for you.”
If you want to learn more or have questions about your own CPAP machine, contact a sleep medicine expert near you.