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Learning About CPAP for Sleep Apnea

Person wearing nasal pillow that is attached to CPAP machine placed next to bed.

What is CPAP?

CPAP is a small machine that you use at home every night while you sleep. It increases air pressure in your throat to keep your airway open. When you have sleep apnea, this can help you sleep better, feel better, and avoid future health problems. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure."

The CPAP machine will have one of the following:

  • A mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • A mask that covers your nose only
  • A nasal pillow that covers only the openings of your nose

Why is it done?

CPAP is usually the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is the first treatment choice and the most widely used. CPAP:

  • Helps you have more normal sleep, so you feel less sleepy and more alert during the daytime.
  • May help keep heart failure or other heart problems from getting worse.
  • May help lower your blood pressure.

If you have a bed partner, they may also sleep better when you use a CPAP. That's because you aren't snoring or restless.

Your doctor may suggest CPAP if you have:

  • Moderate to severe sleep apnea.
  • Sleep apnea and coronary artery disease (CAD).
  • Sleep apnea and heart failure.

What are the side effects?

Some people who use CPAP have:

  • A dry or stuffy nose and a sore throat.
  • Irritated skin on the face.
  • Bloating.

How can you care for yourself?

If using CPAP is not comfortable, or if you have certain side effects, work with your doctor to fix them. Here are some things you can try:

  • Be sure the mask, nasal mask, or nasal pillow fits well.
  • See if your doctor can adjust the pressure of your CPAP.
  • If your nose or mouth is dry, set the machine to deliver warmer or wetter air. Or try using a humidifier. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • If your nose is runny or stuffy, talk to your doctor about using a decongestant medicine or steroid nasal spray. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use the medicine longer than the label says.
  • Your doctor may also help you with problems like swallowing air, bloating, or claustrophobia.

Talk to your doctor if you're still having problems. If these things don't help, you might try a different type of machine.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.