Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is pressure that is delivered into your airway by a machine.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine
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Reasons for the Use of CPAP

CPAP is used to keep the airway open. It lets air move in and out of your lungs more easily. It's used most often to manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a period of time during sleep when breathing is blocked. This can happen many times over the course of each night. CPAP is considered to be the most effective treatment for OSA. It may help you to:

  • Have less daytime sleepiness
  • Lower your high blood pressure
  • Lessen your 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 grow to where they need to be. It can lower the chances of them needing other treatments.

This article is focused on CPAP for OSA.

Possible Complications

Most people who use CPAP report at least 1 problem it. The first night using a CPAP machine can be difficult. You may even sleep worse at first. It's important to be ready for these problems. Talk to your doctor about the best way to lessen these effects.

CPAP is considered safe. Talk to your doctor about potential problems 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
  • Belly bloating
  • Chest muscle discomfort

What to Expect

Prior to Getting a CPAP Machine

You may:

  • Have a physical exam
  • Have a stay in a sleep lab
  • See a doctor who specializes in OSA
  • Need to quit smoking
  • Need to lose weight
  • Need to start exercising

Description of Machine Use

Your doctor will prescribe the CPAP machine. This is done after you get the results from your tests.

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?

The machine will be used for as long as it is needed.

Will It Hurt?

Some have reported chest muscle discomfort. Talk with your doctor about the best way for you to relieve any discomfort.

Average Hospital Stay

CPAP machines will be used at home.

Post-procedure Care

Stopping use of the CPAP will most likely cause OSA problems to return. Clean the machine and mask as advised.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Cough or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Ear pain that increases when using the CPAP machine
  • You have a hard time adjusting to the machine beyond what is expected

If you think you have 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


Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 25, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

CPAP. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed August 21, 2018.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 2, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 8/21/2018