CPAP Therapy: What You Need to Know

If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you have an increased risk of developing more serious medical problems. CPAP therapy helps you breathe better at night and reduce that risk.

Sleep apnea is more than just a fancy term for snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is a result of blockages in the nose, mouth or throat that interrupt breathing during sleep, which makes it difficult to get enough air into the lungs. You may temporarily stop breathing altogether. Because severe sleep apnea is associated with serious medical issues, such as high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke, some type of treatment is usually necessary. In some cases, continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, therapy may be the only effective, non-surgical solution.

CPAP therapy involves wearing a specially designed mask that is held onto your face with a head strap. The mask fits over your nose and is attached to a tube connected to an air machine near your bed. Pressurized air from the CPAP machine is forced through the connecting tube during sleep. The air opens up your windpipe as you inhale, helps you breathe easier and prevents obstruction.

Both children and adults can benefit from CPAP therapy but there is usually an adjustment period. To be effective, the machine must be used every night, all night. If you use CPAP successfully, you will find that snoring ceases, sleep is more restful and you will feel and function better during waking hours. There are several different styles of masks, from those that fit just over the nostrils to those that cover the entire face, depending on individual needs. The level of air pressure is also individually adjusted. A doctor or sleep specialist will help determine proper mask size and fit and appropriate air pressure levels and show you how to make any necessary adjustments yourself.

Some of the potential side effects and problems associated with CPAP therapy include nosebleeds, nasal congestion, dry mouth, eye irritation and claustrophobia, or a feeling of being closed in. If the pressurized air causes drying and discomfort in the nasal passages, a humidifier may be attached to the CPAP machine. In some cases, a simple adjustment in mask fit or air pressure is all that is necessary to solve a problem with the machine or make the treatment more comfortable. If CPAP therapy doesn't work for you, there are other treatments, but the most likely solution at that point will involve some type of surgery.


Belozeroff, V et al. "Effects of CPAP Therapy on Cardiovascular Variability in Obstructive  Sleep Apnea: A Closed Loop Analysis." American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2002: (282) H110-H121. Web. 9 Nov 2010.

University of California, San Diego. "Treatments for Sleep Disordered Breathing." Web. 9 Nov 2010.

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Nasal CPAP: Overview." 24 Aug 2009. Web. 9 Nov 2010.