• Continuous Positive Airway Pressure



    Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is air pressure that is delivered into your airways by a machine. The pressure helps keep your airway open. It allows air to more easily get in an out of your lungs.
    Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine
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    Reasons for the Use of CPAP

    Obstructive sleep apnea is when breathing is blocked during sleep. This can happen several times each night. It can cause daytime sleepiness and lead to other serious health complications. CPAP helps to keep the throat and airway open, stopping the sleep apnea cycle. It is considered to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
    CPAP may have been recommended for sleep apnea that is associated with:
    • Decreased daytime sleepiness
    • Decreased high blood pressure
    • Decreased heartburn symptoms
    • Improved quality of life

    Possible Complications

    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 Machine

    • A complete physical exam will be done.
    • Your doctor may require you to stay in a sleep lab. This will help to determine the correct amount of airway pressure for you and your condition.
    • You may see a pulmonologist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
    • Depending on your situation, your physician may recommend that you make lifestyle changes, such as:

    Description of Using the Machine

    • 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 wear the face mask to bed every night.

    How Long Will It Take?

    If you are undergoing CPAP treatment for sleep apnea, you will use the machine as long as it is needed.

    Will It Hurt?

    Some patients using CPAP report chest muscle discomfort. Talk with your doctor about the best way for you to relieve any discomfort.

    Average Hospital Stay

    If you are getting a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, you must stay in the sleep lab for a sleep study. This is done to make sure that the correct amount of pressure is used. You could have to stay in the sleep lab for just one night or a few nights.

    Post-procedure Care

    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 Your Doctor

    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.


    American Academy of Otolaryngology http://www.entnet.org/

    American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org/

    American Sleep Apnea Association http://www.sleepapnea.org/


    The Canadian Sleep Society (CSS) http://www.css.to/

    Canadian Society of Otolaryngology http://www.csohns.com/

    The Lung Association http://www.lung.ca/


    Barnes M, Houston D, Worsnop CJ, et al. A randomized controlled trial of continuous positive airway pressure in mild obstructive sleep apnea. Am J Respir Crit Care Med . 2002:165:773-780.

    Bratzke E, Downs JB, Smith RA. Intermittent CPAP: a new mode of ventilation during general anesthesia. Anesthesiol . 1998;89(2):334-340.

    Chowdhuri S. Continuous positive airway pressure for the treatment of sleep apnea. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America . 2007; 40(4):807-27.

    Masip J, Roque M, Sanchez B, et al. Noninvasive ventilation in acute cardiogenic pulmonary edema: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2005;294:3124-3310.

    Montserrat J, Ferrar M, Hernandez L, et al. Effectiveness of CPAP treatment in daytime function in sleep apnea syndrome: a randomized controlled study with an optimized placebo. Am J Respir Crit Care Med . 2001;64:608-613.

    Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated December 27, 2012. Accessed January 3, 2013.

    Revision Information

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