What is CPAP and What Does it Do?

Philips Deamstation

CPAP- or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure- is a medical grade device similar to a ventilation system. The CPAP will typically apply air pressure on a continuous basis into the lungs of the patient. The continuous pressure helps to maintain the airways open so that patients with sleep apnea or Obstructive Sleep Apnea can get the required oxygen into their lungs. CPAP therapy is prescribed to patients who are capable of breathing on a spontaneous basis on their own.

CPAP devices represent the most prescribed treatment option for patients with OSA- Obstructive Sleep Apnea. These types of medical grade devices are available on the market for well over 3 decades, and they can be used both as in-home treatment and even in hospital environments. The CPAP devices come with a special tubing and mask attached to it, which is utilized by patients to get the required pressurized oxygen into their lungs. CPAP devices can be used with both full face and nasal (special cushions in the nostrils) types of masks.
Patients will always receive a prescribed pressure for the correct treatment. The physician is the one telling when and how to use a CPAP machine at home. Some patients require higher pressure settings, while others require only lower (milder) oxygen settings. Also, some patients need to use the CPAP therapy during the day & night, while others will require its use only during the night when obstructions in the airways occur most often.

How does the CPAP work in fact?

Resmed AirminiThe CPAP device has the shape of a small to a mid-sized box which is powered by a special motor and a fan system. The main role of the fan is to draw the air from the environment (the room itself), apply pressure to it and then deliver this air according to the settings on the machine. Therefore, patients will receive into their lungs pressurized air which helps gently maintaining the airways open, to avoid obstruction.
All impurities from the environmental air are properly filtered by the CPAP machine before the air is delivered to the patient. The air in the room might contain smoke, small particles of dust or pollen and all these are filtered by the CPAP. Usually, patients need to replace these filters once a month or every three months. Each manufacturer recommends different instructions regarding the changing of air filters on their CPAPs.

CPAP & Humidification Systems

Some CPAP devices also have a humidification chamber which is built into the device. The role of the humidifier is to warm up the water in order to humidify the air that is delivered through the tube and mask. This moist and warm air will help patients enjoy comfortable air therapy. Humidified air will also keep your nasal passages soothed, thus preventing any discomfort that would lead to irritations or even swelling.

Humidification is generally an optional feature. However, by using the humidifier patients will enjoy comfortable therapy and avoid dry mouth syndrome, dry throat or dry nasal passages. Usually, patients living in more torrid and dry climate zones will opt for humidification as an extra feature.

The CPAP machine comes with an attached hose that connects the main device with the mask. This tubing system is typically light and flexible. Some tubing systems are made so as to rotate and follow the movements of the patients, in order to avoid tangling. The tubing of the CPAP is also slightly heated in order to prevent condensation (also known as rainout). Inside the tubing, there can easily accumulate condensation which is successfully reduced with the help of heating. The hoses are generally 6+ feet long in order to give you enough freedom of movement while using CPAP therapy. Each manufacturer will display the intervals at which you need to replace the hose/tubing or the mask itself.

The CPAP Mask & its importance in therapy compliance

Quite often, therapy compliance highly depends on how comfortable your mask is. An ill-fitting, uncomfortable mask will make patients give up therapy very soon. A well-fitting, comfortable mask with the perfect seal will help even beginner CPAP users become quickly compliant with required therapy. There are different sizes and shapes of masks available which fit the widest range of facial structures. Ask your physician for a recommendation of mask type/brand that would fit your personal needs.

Getting used to CPAP therapy tips:

1. Use your CPAP therapy for shorter periods during the day. Become acquainted with how it works and get used to the feeling of wearing a CPAP mask
2. Make sure your CPAP mask feels comfortable- no pressure points, good seal, no irritations caused by the straps and good visibility
3. Go to bed when you feel tired. Don’t force yourself to sleep with CPAP therapy just because you must wear the device. Go to sleep when you feel tired enough, and then you will be able to fall asleep easier