Visitor Information


Make an Appointment


Online Appointments

Use our form

Patient Services
Google Search Patients
Home > Services > Sleep Disorders > Sleep Disorders We Treat > Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is pressure that is delivered into your airway by a machine.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine

Nucleus image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


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 Side Effects

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

Prior to Getting a CPAP Machine

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

Description of Machine Use

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.

How Long Will It Take?

Use the machine for as long as you need it. 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.


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.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Make an Appointment

Call us at 434.243.3675

or make an appointment online.


First Step: Evaluation

Visit the Pulmonary Clinic. You will need an initial evaluation (with some exceptions) to determine next steps, one of which may be a sleep study.

Next: Get a Sleep Study

We have two sleep labs. Get maps, location, directions, contact information for your visit to: