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What is a CPAP Machine?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While most people associate the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP machine with Sleep Apnea, it is also used to treat other conditions.  Because the machine helps keep airways open with a constant flow of air, it is also used to help people with respiratory difficulties and for those in the hospital who need assistance with oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange.

How it Works

The CPAP machine delivers a constant stream of air into a mask or nasal pillow that provides enough air pressure to keep airways open during sleep.  Although it appears that the constant flow of air keeps the airway open, it is actually the air pressure created by the air input in combination with the sealed mask that produces this result.  CPAP machines can be used with a variety of delivery mechanisms including a nasal pillow, nose mask, or full face mask.  Regardless of which kind of mask is used, the most important consideration is that the mask can be sealed to the face in order to create and maintain the required air pressure.

The amount of pressure needed to achieve the desired result is determined on an individual basis.  If the CPAP is being used to treat sleep apnea, the required pressure is determined during a sleep study and usually ranges from 4 to 14 cmH2O (centimeters of water, used to measure air pressure). Higher pressures are commonly used, though the device mode will often be switched to BiLevel PAP in order make it more comfortable to breathe.

Conditions it is Used to Treat

Although most commonly connected to the treatment of sleep apnea, CPAP is also used to treat the following conditions:

Common Problems Using the Machine

The primary issue people have when using a CPAP machine at home is discomfort experienced when wearing the mask.  Some people find it too constricting and others find the sensation of exhaling against the air pressure difficult or unpleasant.

People who are prone to anxiety or claustrophobia may have more trouble acclimating to the use of a CPAP machine than others.  However, this can often be alleviated with desensitization.  The best first option is to come in during the day and try CPAP, apart from a sleep study. Using CPAP without the wires required during a sleep study and on a lower pressure than prescribed for sleep, while also getting to see the different types of masks and try out different pressure settings, will greatly assist in easing anxieties.

Other complications that increase the likelihood of noncompliance include nasal congestion, runny nose, sinus infections, bronchitis, and dry eyes or nasal passages.   It is important to note, however, that according to the National Sleep Foundation, these complications are generally temporary and will disappear as the person acclimates to the use of the machine.   Serious side effects of CPAP usage are rarely noted and therefore not a contributing factor to people choosing not to use the machine.

Keys to Compliance

The fit of the mask is one of the most important factors in achieving compliance.  There are many different masks available that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and some are specifically designed to maximize comfort.  Finding the right mask improves the likelihood that the machine will be used consistently.  Cognitive behavioral therapy at the start of CPAP treatment may also aid in compliance especially for those suffering from anxiety over using the machine.

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Client Reviews
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"I recommend them highly!! I took my 2 year old daughter for a sleep study and was very impressed. Our sleep technician was amazing with her, very patient and kind. The DVD we brought to watch while getting her hooked up got stuck in the TV and they vowed to return it. We got a call the next day checking on our daughter and saying how sweet she was, they mentioned the DVD. Several days later, we received the DVD plus a new copy of the Lion King with a nice note. They are very good at what they do and if they can make a 2 year old feel at ease, they can probably do the same with anyone!!"


Anthea S.


Tempe, AZ

"Great staff, they make you feel so at home. Every medical facility should be this nice. Felt like a nice hotel. Someone has great taste in decorating. Thanks for making us feel at home."


Steve N.


San Diego, CA

"I was especially impressed with Andrew the Respiratory Therapist who reviewed my study with me and answered my questions. Andrew thoroughly explained everything about the Cpap machine-from start to finish. I never felt rushed and was assured I could contact him with any additional questions or needs. Andrew told me he would follow up with a call in a week and he did. I believe this center performed the study appropriately and the added benefit of having Andrew teach me about the machine and what to expect was a bonus."


Candace M.


Scottsdale, AZ