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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

(CPAP)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for the Use of CPAP | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor

Definition

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 and allows 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, which 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

Most patients who use CPAP report at least one 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 very 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

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

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.

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

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

CPAP machines will be used at home.

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

After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Cough or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, or 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 medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology

http://www.entnet.org

American Lung Association

http://www.lungusa.org

American Sleep Apnea Association

http://www.sleepapnea.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Sleep Society (CSS)

http://www.css.to

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology

http://www.csohns.com

The Lung Association

http://www.lung.ca

References:

What is CPAP? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cpap/. Updated December 13, 2011. Accessed May 28, 2013.

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: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated December 27, 2012. Accessed January 3, 2013.

Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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