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CPAP Machines – What Are They?

More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea. According to available data, Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) affects about 5-20 percent of the adult population. If you’ve done much reading on our website, then you probably know that we take this condition quite seriously – and for good reason.

If you’re new to our site, then you might be wondering what sleep apnea even is – so before we talk about CPAP therapy, we’re going to very briefly discuss OSAS, what it is, and why it’s dangerous.


What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is “a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep.” This might not sound too serious at first – but it’s actually not a good problem to have, and this is why.

Obstructive sleep apnea technically occurs when the muscles in the back part of the throat relax too much… thereby failing to keep the airway open, and allowing the muscles and tissue to ‘collapse in’ on themselves. This results in a blocked airway, and usually (but not in all cases) makes its presence known with severe snoring-type sounds, during which the sleeper will actually stop breathing for brief periods of time.

After a certain amount of time (about 10 seconds, give or take), however, these small periods are interrupted when the brain alerts the body that breathing isn’t occurring – which wakes the sleeper up and usually causes them to ‘gasp’ a bit for air. They don’t generally wake up all the way though, and soon fall back to sleep – only to repeat the problem multiple times per hour (how many exactly depends on the severity of the case).

OSAS can cause fragmented sleep, and can certainly keep you from getting the kind of rest you need for a healthy mind and body. This can leave you fatigued during the day, and can contribute to your risk for a number of different diseases.

CPAP therapy, however, was designed to help treat obstructive sleep apnea – so let’s move on and discuss how it works.


What is CPAP?

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP machines essentially treat OSAS by increasing the air pressure in the throat so that it doesn’t collapse when you try to breathe while sleeping. The machine utilizes a mask that will cover your mouth and/or your nose to create an airtight seal, though there are also some types that utilize small prongs that fit into your nose, eliminating the need for a mask.

CPAP is known for being a bit difficult to get used to, and some people don’t like CPAP therapy because it’s so ‘invasive’. The fact that you have to wear a mask and have the machine with you every night is a bit of a turn off to some people – but with that being said, the device has had a lot of success in the area of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for the condition, mostly because of how well it works.

It’s known as the most effective non-surgical treatment for OSAS.


CPAP: The Basics

Getting a CPAP machine will first require a prescription – which means that you’ll need to be diagnosed with sleep apnea before you can buy or obtain one. This will usually require a sleep study, which could require you to spend the night in a clinic.

As a general rule, there isn’t much of a difference between the name-brand and generic CPAP machines. Most of them are pretty interchangeable, though it might take you some time to figure out which model is right for you. Once you have a prescription, you can use it to slowly upgrade to newer and better models over time, and this might help you to slowly improve your experience with the therapy in the long run.

Information! Another detail that’s important to understand about CPAP therapy is that you’re going to need to make sure that the machine is set to the correct pressure level. This level is always set before you receive the machine, and should only be adjusted by a doctor or technician. This isn’t something that a patient should ever adjust on their own.

Most CPAP machines come with a hose. It’ll be about 6 foot long. Some doctors, along with the prescription for your machine, will also include a note for an optional heated humidifier. Using this accessory can help to make the airflow more tolerable, and can reduce your odds of suffering from side effects like nasal congestion or a dry throat.

Heated humidifiers don’t require a prescription, however – so this can be added to your machine regardless of whether or not your doctor makes a note of it.

Heated humidifier

Some people choose to rent CPAP machines at first, while others choose to buy them. In some cases, insurance will cover the cost – so if you have private insurance, it might be worthwhile to check your policy. Some people, on the other hand, choose a rent-to-own plan – which can be nice if you don’t have the cash (or the insurance) on-hand to pay for the machine outright.

Information! CPAP machines are admittedly pretty expensive – so the hurdle of making the purchase can be problematic for people who don’t happen to have a lot of cash sitting around.


Tips for buying the right CPAP machine

Buying a CPAP machine isn’t all that difficult – but there are still some things that you should know. In some cases, sleep-study patients may be asked to purchase a machine directly from the sleep clinic… but it’s important to know that there may be better and cheaper options out there. Buying from the clinic isn’t necessarily a bad idea – but keep in mind that there are a lot of different devices out there, and that some of them might suit your needs (and your budget) better than others.

Another thing to consider is the mask. There are four basic types of CPAP masks, and all of them come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. Here are the four types of masks to consider…

Types of CPAP masks

  • Nasal masks (these form a seal around the nose)
  • Nasal pillows (these are basically small tubes that fit into the nostrils)
  • Full-face masks (these cover both the mouth and the nose)
  • Oral masks (these types of masks are attached between the lips and gums)

If you’re planning on buying a CPAP machine, you may want to discuss these options with your doctor and consider your own personal tastes and preferences before choosing a mask for you. Masks themselves don’t require a prescription, so you may be able to buy a couple different types/brands/models to try out, depending on the machine and what will work with it.

Keep in mind that it may take months or even years to perfect the art of CPAP therapy. At first, it might be uncomfortable, troublesome, and a general inconvenience. But over time, you’ll get used to the machine, you’ll find better masks, you’ll get the pressure adjusted to the perfect level, and you’ll figure out how to make it work for you.

Some CPAP users don’t really start to perfect their CPAP machine setup until they’ve already been using it for several years. Some also like to keep several masks on-hand so that they can switch them out every so often. A lot of insurance companies will cover mask replacements one or more times per year – so if you have insurance, it might be even easier to build up a quality selection of masks that will help to make using your CPAP machine as comfortable as possible.

Some people buy battery backup systems for their CPAP machine. This would allow them to use it even if the power goes out – though it’s usually considered a bit of a luxury, and certainly isn’t needed on a normal day-to-day basis (unless you face frequent and/or regular power outages).


Common Problems and/or Side Effects of CPAP Therapy

Information! CPAP therapy is pretty safe and simple, for the most part. But with that being said, there are a few side effects and problems to keep an eye out for.

People tend to report excessive dreaming during the first days, weeks, or even months of use. Dry nasal passages, sore throats, a runny nose, irritation of the skin on the face, irritation of the eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, and abdominal bloating are also problems that CPAP users tend to face from time to time.

The mask can also present its own complications. Sometimes, masks don’t fit quite as well as they should, and can leak – which reduces the effectiveness of the treatment and causes irritation.

Very rarely, the device can cause nosebleeds. But really, aside from mild discomfort in the morning when you’re first getting used to it, CPAP tends to be pretty easy and problem-free.


What happens after you buy a CPAP machine?

After buying your machine, you’ll still have some work ahead of you. For one, there is routine maintenance – which will consist mainly of keeping the device clean and free of dirt and other debris. Instructions for how to perform this maintenance are generally pretty easy to find in the owner’s manual – but caring for the machine itself is a responsibility that will invariably fall to you, the owner.

You will also need to keep in contact with your doctor. He/she may want to schedule regular sleep studies for you in the future, so that you’ll be able to get the machine re-adjusted to the proper pressure. Over time, your needs for different pressure settings may change, and regular sleep studies can help you to stay on top of it.


How Effective is CPAP Therapy?

There have been several studies done on CPAP therapy, though originally, many of them were challenged due to a lack of a proper placebo. But in a study that was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Volume 164, Issue 4 (August 15th, 2001), this challenge was really ruled out. You can view the study details here: http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/ajrccm.164.4.2006034#.V6t-XY-cHIU.

Here’s what the conclusion of the study stated on the official atsjournals.org website…

“In conclusion, this study provides solid evidence of the effectiveness of CPAP treatment in moderate to severe SAHS to alleviate somnolence and other SAHS-related symptoms and to improve health status. The use of CPAP in symptomatic patients is now adequately supported, and the indication of CPAP in these patients should be considered as firmly established.”

One common problem that often comes up with CPAP therapy is that people sometimes don’t use it every night – which can severely limit its long-term effectiveness. For best results, it needs to be used every night on a consistent basis – which is why it’s so important to get a mask that’s comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods of time.

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