CPAP Machine – What Is It And How It Can Help Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea – sometimes referred to as obstructive sleep apnea – is a serious sleep disorder. It’s characterized by an interruption in breathing while asleep. Moderate or severe sleep apnea can result in someone ceasing to breathe several dozen times a night, with the result being the body suffering from lack of oxygen.

There are many risk factors for sleep apnea, which include being overweight or over a certain age, but the condition can strike anyone. Even children can suffer from sleep apnea, especially if it runs in their family history or if they suffer from allergies or sinus problems.

The effects of long-term untreated sleep apnea can include headaches, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and even heart failure or stroke. Daytime drowsiness can also occur and can be especially dangerous – or even fatal – if a sleep apnea sufferer is behind the wheel of a vehicle at the time.

Thankfully, there are several effective treatments for sleep apnea. Many of these treatments involve the use of a breathing device known as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Here’s a detailed description of the CPAP, what it does, and how it helps to treat sleep apnea.


The CPAP Machine

A typical CPAP machine works by providing a constant stream of air to a sleep apnea sufferer while they’re asleep through the aid of a specialized mask over the nose or the mouth. The constant pressure is gentle enough to allow individuals to fall asleep but strong enough to keep their airways open, which prevents the onset of sleep apnea and ensures that their sleep isn’t interrupted by a lack of oxygen.

There are many different styles and designs of CPAP machine, but in general, they all share certain characteristics. The base unit, which usually rests on a bedside table, has a flexible air hose attached to it. The other end of the hose terminates in a CPAP mask, which is most typically worn over the mouth and nose. For sleep apnea sufferers that feel uncomfortable wearing a larger mask, there are nasal CPAP devices that fit securely into the nose, providing the same continuous air pressure while providing more comfort without triggering feelings of claustrophobia.

Most CPAP devices rely on small air compressors to provide pressure. Since the side effect of compressed air is providing naturally dry air, many CPAP machines also have water reservoirs to humidify the air to ensure higher levels of comfort.  Air flow levels strength is also adjustable, allowing either low-pressure or high-pressure airflow possible. The exact amount of air pressure needed for someone suffering from sleep apnea will differ from one individual to the next, and it’s something that has to be determined by a pulmonologist or a sleep disorder specialist.


Being Fitted For a CPAP Device

The process of getting fitted for a CPAP can be long and drawn-out. As a device specifically for treating sleep apnea, CPAP machines only come into play after someone receives a diagnosis; being diagnosed with sleep apnea typically involves undergoing overnight observation at a sleep center.

These medical centers are specifically for investigating and diagnosing many different sleep disorders. Appearing very much like a hotel, sleep centers feature a number of bedrooms for patients to sleep overnight in order to be monitored by medical professionals. This monitoring often takes the form of a myriad of sensors placed on a patient’s body in order to monitor respiration, heart rate, brain activity, and oxygen saturation in the bloodstream, and while some may find it difficult to sleep covered in these sensors, the data gathered during a sleep study is integral in reaching a sleep apnea diagnosis.

Oftentimes, sleep apnea sufferers have to return for a second sleep study in order to calibrate a CPAP machine properly. Since everyone’s sleep apnea manifests differently – and needs differing pressures to keep their airways open – this second sleep study involves being fitted for a CPAP mask and trying out different levels of pressure to “dial in” the amount needed to keep sleep apnea at bay. Once the correct pressure has been determined, patients are then sent home with a CPAP device or have one delivered to them by an expert in medical technology who shows the sleep apnea sufferer how to set up and operate the machine at home.


Alternative Treatments

While CPAP therapy is considered the preferred way to treat sleep apnea, there are alternative treatments for those who can’t tolerate a CPAP mask or even a nasal CPAP. Some of these treatments involve the use of a dental device, similar to a mouthguard, designed specifically to keep air pathways open, while others include surgery to correct nasal problems like a deviated septum, or surgeries to remove additional soft tissue at the back of the throat that can otherwise interfere with the ability to breathe.

The most effective – and arguably the most invasive – sleep apnea treatment is bariatric surgery. Developed as a weight loss procedure to reduce the size of the stomach, bariatric surgery and its resulting weight loss has proven to be between 80% and 85% effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea, depending on the type of bariatric surgery patients undergo.

Despite the highly effective nature of these procedures, however, they are invasive, require involved surgeries, and can sometimes result in complications and require long recovery times. As most health care professionals prefer to exhaust non-invasive treatment solutions before resorting to surgical procedures, the majority of individuals suffering from sleep apnea are strongly encouraged to use CPAP therapy to see if this resolves the issue and controls their sleep apnea symptoms.


The Best and Easiest Solution

CPAP therapy has become the best and easiest solution for treating sleep apnea in both adults and children. While it’s certainly not perfect – being fitted with a CPAP involves multiple overnight stays at a sleep lab, and wearing a CPAP mask can be uncomfortable and even claustrophic – the continuous air pressure that CPAP therapy provides is the gold standard for treating what could otherwise be a serious, and even life-threatening, sleep disorder.

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