Positive Airway Pressure Devices

One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is a machine that keeps pressured air flowing through the airways of the throat. The person wears a face mask attached to a tube and a machine that blows pressurized air through the mask into the airway to keep it open. The air acts like a balloon holding the relaxed muscles of the throat open.

There are several forms of this device:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Most positive airway pressure devices blow a constant stream of pressurized air into the airway.
  • Variable positive airway pressure (VPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). This is a newer type of machine that lowers the amount of pressure when a person breathes out. The device uses an electronic circuit to monitor the person's breathing. Having less pressure in the moment when a person is exhaling may make it more comfortable for the person with sleep apnea. This type of machine is mostly used for people who have other breathing problems or who can't sleep if they have to breath out against a stream of air. 
  • Automatic positive airway pressure (APAP). This type of device constantly monitors a person's breathing and makes adjustments. These devices us pressure sensors and a computer to do the monitoring.
    If your doctor recommends a positive airway pressure device, a technician will come to your home with the equipment. He or she will set it up and make adjustments as your doctor orders.

Some people have side effects such as a dry or stuffy nose, a bloating of the stomach or headaches. If any of these occur, the doctor can recommend a number of things to reduce the side effects. Some solutions include adjusting the settings of the machine, adjusting the size or fit of the facemask or adding moisture to the air as it flows through the mask.

People with severe sleep apnea usually feel much better after using a continuous positive airway pressure machine. It is important to continue to have followup appointments with your doctor so he or she can monitor your progress.

Positive airway pressure devices don't cure sleep apnea. If a person stops using one of these devices or fails to use it correctly, the sleep apnea will return.