What is continuous positive airway pressure treatment, or CPAP?

People diagnosed with sleep apnea may be prescribed oxygen that’s administered through a continuous positive airway pressure treatment (CPAP) machine. CPAP is used to keep the air passages open while you sleep. 

The air passages of the nose and throat of some people collapse or become blocked while they are sleeping. This airway collapse causes an obstruction and can cause breathing to stop briefly. When breathing stops for short periods of time, it’s known as apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. This condition is diagnosed by doing a sleep study

How a CPAP works

CPAP is a medical device used to keep the air passages open while you sleep. A small air blower in the CPAP machine pushes air through a flexible tube. The tube attaches to a mask that fits over your nose, or nose and mouth while you sleep. The constant flow of air through the tubing prevents the air passages in your nose and throat from collapsing so your breathing does not stop. 

CPAP needs to be used anytime you sleep or nap. 

  • If the CPAP device is not used or is not used correctly, apnea will return. 
  • Always take your CPAP with you when traveling or if you are admitted to the hospital.

Using a CPAP

Most people find using CPAP helps them feel more rested. You will be fitted for a mask to make sure you get the right seal for air pressure. It may take time for the pressure to be adjusted for your needs, so be patient and work with your doctor. CPAP pressure is lower before you fall asleep and it increases to a higher pressure when sleeping. 

Side Effects

After a few days of getting used to the CPAP, sleeping should be more restful. If you have any of these signs, talk to your doctor:

  • Nosebleeds 
  • Stuffy nose or runny nose 
  • Chronic dry mouth 
  • Irritation near the eyes, nose or mouth from how the mask fits
Our Providers

Subscribe. Get just the right amount of health and wellness in your inbox.