January 29, 2021 · 5 minutes read
January 29, 2021

How Does A CPAP Machine Work?

5 minutes read

You have been having sleep problems for a while now, so you decided to visit your healthcare provider. You tell them about all the issues you’ve been having, and he suggests that you have a sleep study done. You take part in the sleep study and are ultimately diagnosed with sleep apnea. There are two main kinds, central sleep apnea, and obstructive sleep apnea so your doctor specifies that you have obstructive sleep apnea. The doctor prescribes continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP therapy by use of a CPAP machine, but you have no idea what that is or how it works. Worry not reader! We are here to help you figure out what a CPAP machine is, what a CPAP machine is used for and how a CPAP machine works.

ResMed AirSense 10 Auto CPAP machine

What is a CPAP machine?

A CPAP machine is a machine containing a motor and filter which takes pressurized ambient air or in other words “room air” and filters it with the help of a CPAP mask and tubing to regulate breathing patterns. Two men named Dr. Collin Sullivan and his mentor David Read who was a specialist in sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS had been looking into what causes this syndrome and they concluded that it was due to some kind of breathing defect. They continued their research using dogs who were known to have breathing problems. 

The CPAP machine was invented by Colin Sullivan in the 1980s when he fastened a breathing mask and connected it to the motor of a vacuum cleaner, using various hoses, to the snout of a dog who was known to have issues breathing as he slept. After seeing positive results Dr. Sullivan wanted to know if this treatment can also work on people who suffer from breathing issues at night and thus the CPAP machine was born. Before the 1980s, when you walk into the doctor’s office and say you had sleep apnea there was only one treatment option available which was to perform a tracheotomy. Nowadays, a CPAP machine is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea also known as OSA.  If you’ve never seen a CPAP machine before, it looks like a rectangular machine with a motor and attachments for a hose and sometimes a water chamber attachment that releases air pressure to keep your airways open. Some CPAP machines have touch screens with a few buttons so you can set them up easily.

 

What is a CPAP machine used for?

A CPAP machine is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the back of the throat relax and block or “obstruct” your airway while sleeping. A CPAP machine delivers pressurized air with the use of a CPAP mask at a certain pressure range to maintain your throat muscles open and clear the “obstruction” while you are asleep. Your doctor or sleep medicine specialist will set up a sleep study or polysomnography for you to determine if you have obstructive sleep apnea. Doctors usually prescribe at-home sleep studies to diagnose OSA because they use a limited number of sensors that are focused on diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea. This is extremely helpful because if left untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to heart attack, heart disease, and even heart failure. It is important for you to let your doctor or sleep specialist know of any OSA side effects you may be experiencing like high blood pressure or daytime sleepiness.

After you complete your at-home sleep study, you may be asked to complete a CPAP titration study where your doctor or sleep specialist will give their medical advice and assign your pressure level range. Once all that information has been gathered you will be given a prescription that may include what kind of therapy you need (CPAP, APAP, or BiPAP or BiLevel), your pressure level, recommended type of mask, how long you need the PAP therapy and your AHI score. AHI stands for apnea-hypopnea index. Your AHI score is the sum of the number of times your breathing paused (apneas) plus the number of shallow breathing periods or hypopneas that occur each hour. Once you have completed your studies and your prescription has been given to you, you are ready to purchase your CPAP machine and mask.

How does a CPAP machine work?

man using a CPAP machine in bed

Once you purchase your CPAP machine you may be wondering “how does this contraption work?” but worry not for we have the answers you seek. The very first thing you need to know before you use your CPAP machine is your pressure range. This is located on the prescription you received from your doctor and it is usually a range that goes from 4-20cmH2O. Once you have your pressure range, you can start the machine and begin programming it with the correct pressure settings for you. 

Once you have programmed the pressure range, there are a few features that you can program as well like the ramp time or EPR which stands for Expiratory Pressure Relief (known as the C-Flex on the Dreamstation machines). This makes it easier for the patient to breathe in and out by having lower airflow pressure while exhaling and increasing the pressure while inhaling, which was a common problem a lot of CPAP users were having.  Many machines also come with filters that reduce dirt and allergens. It is recommended to replace these filters every 30-60 days.  

Another feature to pay attention to is humidification. Some CPAP devices feature a heated humidifier option which requires heated tubing as well. Humidification is recommended for someone who is having issues with their CPAP therapy such as dry mouth, nosebleeds, or sinus issues. If you are using a humidifier with your CPAP therapy, please attach the water chamber to the machine and indicate that you are using the humidification option, so the machine is aware. Once the water chamber is attached and you have indicated that you would like to use the humidification option you can fill the water chamber with distilled water. Do not fill past the MAX water line as it could cause issues with your machine. Once the water chamber has been attached and filled, it is time to set up your CPAP mask. 

CPAP masks usually come in 3 styles: Full-Face Mask, Nasal Mask, Nasal Pillow Mask. Try to choose a mask that best fits your sleeping position. Many machines will ask you about your mask type and you can just choose from the options you are given. Once your CPAP mask has been put together and attached to the tubing for your CPAP machine you are ready to put it on. Many CPAP machines come with 22mm tubing which can fit most masks.  Place the mask on your face and play around with it until you find a comfortable fit. Once you have found a comfortable fit for your mask, you are ready to lay down and start your CPAP journey. Turn on your machine and embrace the delightful sleep you will experience with CPAP therapy.  If you are having some trouble getting used to your CPAP therapy, we have some tips. Please let your doctor know if you are experiencing negative side effects due to your CPAP treatment.

Final Thoughts:

Getting a sleep apnea diagnosis can be scary, especially when you have no idea how a CPAP machine works or what is needed for it. Thankfully, you do not have to be alone because Sleeplay is here to help. We have amazing personnel that can help you with every step of your CPAP journey. Check out our website for all your CPAP needs and enjoy better sleep!

Written by Karina Lima

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