Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
by Amanda L. Dameron, MA
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is pressure that is delivered into your airway by a machine.
Reasons for the Use of CPAP TOP
CPAP is used to keep the airway open and allow air to more easily move in and out of your lungs. It is used most often to manage obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a period of time during sleep when breathing is blocked. This can happen several times each night. CPAP is considered to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. It may help to:
CPAP may also be used in preterm infants. Under-developed lungs can be a common problem in preterm infants. CPAP can help support the infant's lungs until they can develop fully. It may prevent or decrease the need for more invasive treatments or medications.
This article is focused on CPAP for sleep apnea.
Possible Complications TOP
Most patients who use CPAP report at least 1 side effect. The first night using a CPAP machine can be difficult. You may even sleep worse at first. It is important to prepare for this adjustment. Talk with your doctor about steps you can take to minimize any discomfort.
CPAP is considered safe. Talk to your doctor about potential complications, such as:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Getting a CPAP Machine
Your doctor may request that you:
Description of Machine Use
Following your stay in a sleep lab, you will be prescribed a CPAP machine.
The CPAP machine includes a pump and a face mask. The pump sits off the bed and has a tube that goes to the face mask. The face mask will be tightly secured to your head so that air will not leak out. The pump will force air through your airway to help keep it open. You will need to wear the face mask to bed every night.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
The machine will be used for as long as it is needed.
Will It Hurt? TOP
Some have reported chest muscle discomfort. Talk with your doctor about the best way for you to relieve any discomfort.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
CPAP machines will be used at home.
Post-procedure Care TOP
Stopping use of the CPAP will most likely cause symptoms of sleep apnea to return. Follow the instructions for the care and cleaning of your machine and mask.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Lung Association
American Sleep Apnea Association
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
The Lung Association
Chowdhuri S. Continuous positive airway pressure for the treatment of sleep apnea. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2007; 40(4):807-827.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 19, 2015. Accessed June 2, 2015.
What is CPAP? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 13, 2011. Accessed June 2, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013
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