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Learning About CPAP for Sleep Apnea

Man using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device

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 so you feel much better. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure."

The CPAP machine will have one of the following:

  • A mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • Prongs that fit into your nose
  • A mask that covers your nose only, which is the most common type. This type is called NCPAP. The N stands for "nasal."

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 use CPAP, your bed partner may also sleep better. 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.
  • Sore eyes.
  • 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 or nasal prongs fit well.
  • See if your doctor can adjust the pressure of your CPAP.
  • If your nose is dry, try a humidifier.
  • If your nose is runny or stuffy, try decongestant medicine or a 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.

If these things don't help, you might try a different type of machine. Some machines have air pressure that adjusts on its own. Others have air pressures that are different when you breathe in than when you breathe out. This may reduce discomfort caused by too much pressure in your nose.

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.