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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

(CPAP)

Definition

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is pressured air delivered into the airway by a machine.

Reasons for the Use of CPAP

CPAP is used to keep the airway open. This lets air move in and out of the lungs more easily. It is used most often to manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a series of pauses in breathing during sleep. It is caused by relaxed throat muscles that press into airway while you sleep. which can lead to:

CPAP may also be used in preterm infants. It supports their lungs until they develop.

Possible Complications

CPAP is considered safe. Some problems that can happen are:

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

What to Expect

Prior to Getting a CPAP Machine

Before prescribing a CPAP machine, the doctor may advise you to:

  • Be in a sleep study
  • See a doctor who specializes in OSA
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Get more physical activity

Description of Machine Use

The CPAP machine has a pump and a face mask. The pump sits off the bed. It has a tube that goes to the face mask. The face mask will be tightly secured to the head so that air will not leak out. The pump will force air through the airway. This will help keep the airway open. The face mask will need to be worn during sleep.

How Long Will It Take?

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

Will It Hurt?

Some have reported skin, eye, or nose irritation or chest muscle and belly discomfort. The doctor may advise ways to relieve any discomfort.

Average Hospital Stay

CPAP machines will be used at home.

Post-procedure Care

Stopping use of the CPAP can cause OSA problems to return.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Cough or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Ear pain that increases when using the CPAP machine
  • Ongoing problems using the machine

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
http://www.lung.org

American Sleep Apnea Association
https://www.sleepapnea.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

The Lung Association
https://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/continuous-positive-airway-pressure-cpap-for-obstructive-sleep-apnea-osa Accessed January 20,2021.

CPAP. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cpap. Accessed January 20, 2021.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/obstructive-sleep-apnea-osa-in-adults. Accessed January 20, 2021.

Turnbull C, Sen D, et. al. Effect of supplemental oxygen on blood pressure in obstructive sleep spnea (SOX). A randomized continuous positive airway pressure withdrawal trial Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2019 Jan 15;199(2):211-219.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary Beth Seymour, RN  Last Updated: 1/20/2021