CPAP Information


What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the repeated interruption of breathing during sleep caused by the airway relaxing.  When the muscles supporting the tongue and soft palate relax, the airway becomes narrower, causing snoring and some breathing difficulty.  When these muscles relax excessively, however, the tongue and tissues completely block the airway, stopping breathing all together.  An apnea, which is the cessation of breathing for at least 10 seconds, can occur as many as 20 to 60 times within an hour.  When this happens, sleep quality is greatly reduced, leading to drowsiness and fatigue throughout the day.  After extended untreated OSA, more serious health problems can develop, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and, in some cases, death.  Through the use of a CPAP machine, sleep apnea can be effectively treated without medication or surgery and can prevent and reduce unwanted health conditions to drastically improve quality of life.


What is CPAP?

CPAP is an acronym for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure”.   A CPAP machine is a non-invasive medical device used in conjunction with a mask, which can be worn over the nose (nasal mask), over the nose and mouth (full face mask), or inserted into the nostrils (nasal pillow mask).  Straps connected to the mask fit around the back of the head in a variety of fashions to help stabilize it and deliver a steady stream of air.  This continuous pressure helps to keep your airway open, therefore, maintaining normal breathing throughout the night.


CPAP therapy was developed by Australian physician Dr. Colin Sullivan in 1980.  While researching upper respiratory conditions, specifically those corresponding with SIDS in infants, he stumbled upon the idea of continuous pressure to keep airways open.  The therapy was quickly accepted by patients because before CPAP, dramatic methods such as tracheotomies, where a hole is cut into the lower airway, were used as treatment.  CPAP therapy is now the most effective treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA.


Since sleep apnea can have an overall effect on a person’s wakefulness during the day, a CPAP treatment plan is a good option not only to help patients feel more rested, but also to prevent more serious conditions that can arise from OSA, like high blood pressure and risk of strokes.  A New Zealand study even suggests that untreated cases of sleep apnea create a state similar to intoxication.  Similar studies have proven that those with untreated OSA are more than twice as likely to be involved in car accidents, showing how necessary treatment for sleep apnea is.


CPAP Machines and Masks

Sleep therapy equipment is personalized for your unique requirements.  Different types of machines and masks help you and your doctor choose the most effective and most comfortable option for your needs.  The machine is not breathing for you to keep your airway open, but the pressurized air that is delivered when you inhale is enough to keep your airway from relaxing.  CPAP machines deliver a steady, continuous pressure for inhalation and exhalation to keep your airway open.  BiPAP and APAP machines are more adjustable, in that BiPAP machines deliver a lower pressure for easier exhalation, and APAP machines adjust to each individual breath throughout the night. 


The varying mask options offer careful selection based on your prescribed therapy pressure and personal preference.  Nasal masks cover the entire nose and are effective for patients that breathe through their nose.  With nasal masks, ‘mouth leak’ can occur, where some of your pressurized air can slip out of your mouth, decreasing the effectiveness of therapy.  This can be prevented by the use of a chinstrap, which fits snugly under your chin to help keep your mouth closed while sleeping.  Full Face masks cover both the nose and mouth and are especially good for those with high prescribed pressures.  Nasal Pillow masks have flexible pillows that insert into the nostrils to deliver pressurized air.  Oral masks cover only the mouth and are a good option for those with chronic nasal obstruction.  To prevent any pressure leaks, nasal plugs can be worn with the oral masks for effective therapy.  Most masks offer a variety of sizes that are sure to feel comfortable and create a more personalized CPAP experience.


Though, at first, adjusting to the CPAP can be difficult, the benefits can ultimately outweigh any initial discomfort.  Those who have been affected by sleep apnea for much of their lives will soon find themselves feeling well rested and refreshed upon waking.  Greater alertness during the day can increase memory, improve job performance, and enhance mood, and, in most cases, the health benefits of CPAP therapy are noticeable within weeks of beginning use.


Creating Comfort with a Humidifier

Some patients have a difficult time adjusting to CPAP therapy.  Complaints are often a sense of dry nasal passages or a sore throat.  All major manufacturers of CPAP Supplies offer some type of heated humidifier to help prevent these feelings of discomfort.   Heated humidifiers offer additional comfort by moistening the air you breathe in, often in relation to your environment.  This helps to eliminate nasal dryness and any soreness for a more comfortable CPAP experience.  Heated humidifiers can be used year round, or may be preferred seasonally in colder climates.


CPAP Maintenance

Most CPAP Machines require very little scheduled maintenance.  Machines and masks are built to be durable and withstand therapy without needing to be replaced frequently.  It is recommended that you clean your mask to prevent any buildup, which can compromise the mask seal and cause leaks.  Cleaning your CPAP tubing is also recommended to prevent any unwanted contaminants from establishing inside.


One item that does need to be changed on a regular basis is the machine filter. Most machines use at least one poly foam, washable, or re-usable filter that is usually located on the back of the machine.  CPAP Filters should be changed every 30-45 days depending on your environment.  Once a month, you should inspect your filters to ensure that they are not discolored or full of debris.  If your filter appears to be in good shape, simply place the filter back into the machine and continue using it. If, however, the filter appears to be worn or discolored, wash it if is re-usable, or replace it if it is disposable.