Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

(CPAP)

Definition

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is pressure that is delivered into your airway by a machine.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine

Nucleus image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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:

  • Decrease daytime sleepiness
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease heartburn symptoms
  • Improve quality of life

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:

  • A feeling of claustrophobia or suffocation from wearing the face mask
  • Rash or pressure sores in the area of the face mask
  • Nasal congestion and nosebleeds
  • Sore eyes, conjunctivitis
  • Sore or dry throat
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Chest muscle discomfort

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Getting a CPAP Machine

Your doctor may request that you:

  • Have a complete physical exam
  • Have a stay in a sleep lab to determine the correct amount of airway pressure for you
  • See a pulmonologist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Start a regular exercise program

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:

  • Cough or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Ear pain that increases when using the CPAP machine
  • Difficulty adjusting to the machine, beyond what is expected

In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
http://www.lungusa.org
American Sleep Apnea Association
http://www.sleepapnea.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entcanada.org

References:

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

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebscohost.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.