Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) keeps the airway open while you're sleeping. It 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. It may help to:
- Decrease daytime sleepiness
- Decrease high blood pressure
- Decrease heartburn symptoms
- Improve quality of life
Struggling with a sleep disorder? Learn why you'll want to come to UVA Health for sleep disorder care and where you'll find alternatives to CPAP.
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
- Abdominal bloating
- Chest muscle discomfort
What to Expect
Before 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
How a CPAP Machine Works
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 Do I Need to Use It?
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.
Call Us With Any Concerns
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