What is the CPAP Machine?
by Dr. Scott Bolding | July 28, 2021
Table of Contents
01. What is a CPAP Machine?
02. What are Some of the Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder?
03. Types of Masks
04. Pros & Cons of the CPAP
05. Alternatives to the CPAP Machine
06. How Do I Know if the CPAP is Right for Me?
If you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will probably talk to you about using a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The purpose of the CPAP is to keep your airway open while you sleep. It does this by blowing air into your mouth or nose through a mask.
First used by Dr. Colin Sullivan in 1980, the CPAP machine continues to be the treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea. Previously, the only solution for OSA was a tracheostomy, which bypassed the obstruction in the airway. However, when one of Dr. Sullivan’s patients with severe sleep apnea didn’t want to go through with the tracheotomy, Dr. Sullivan decided to test his first CPAP machine. He found that the machine produced better results than the tracheotomy. His patient experienced less sleep apnea episodes during the night because of the continuous stream of air blowing into the airway. Since then, the CPAP machine has been the go-to treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
So, how exactly does the CPAP work? How do I know that the CPAP is right for me? How do I address any issues with my machine? What if I’m not seeing the results I’d like to see? Are there any risks or downsides to using the CPAP that I should know about?
When you are first prescribed a CPAP machine, you may have all of these questions and more. We want to help you understand exactly how the CPAP works as well as the pros and cons of using one. We want you to be well-informed on your treatment options so you can make the best decision for your health.
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How Does It Work?
The CPAP machine is made of the following components: a motor, a mask, a hose, and adjustable straps. It works by pulling air from your room into a filter. The motor then takes that filtered air and generates a pressurized air stream that travels through a hose. The hose is connected to a mask that goes over your mouth and/or nose.
This air stream flows through the machine all night and the pressure gradually increases as you sleep. An air cushion is created in your airway which keeps it from collapsing. Keeping the airway open reduces the number of sleep apnea episodes you experience while you sleep.
Types of Masks
Every patient has different needs when it comes to the comfort of their CPAP machine. Luckily, there are several different mask options available. You can talk to your doctor or sleep apnea specialist about your unique needs. The type of mask you need will depend on your own comfort level, the severity of your sleep apnea, and other factors. You may have to try different masks to find the one that works for you.
The nasal mask is the most common type of CPAP mask. It covers your whole nose while most nasal masks rest on the bridge of your nose. A nasal mask is a good option for people who need higher air pressure and who move around a lot while they sleep. If you only breathe through your nose, and not your mouth, a nasal mask is probably the best option.
Nasal Pillow Mask
The nasal pillow mask is similar to the nasal mask but is lighter and more comfortable. It has a small cushion that sits at the base of the nostrils. This cushion helps create a seal around your nostrils. Because of the seal, thenair then flows directly into your nose.
Nasal pillow masks work best for patients who require lower air pressure. Since they are not as big as the nasal or full face mask, the nasal pillow is often great if you are claustrophobic. Like with the regular nasal mask, this mask is best for people who only breathe through their nose while they sleep.
Full Face Mask
The full face mask is another well-known CPAP mask. It covers your mouth and nose, blowing air into both. The full face mask is typically prescribed to people who breathe through their mouths when they sleep. It is also great if you need higher air pressure.
Pros & Cons of the CPAP
When deciding on whether or not the CPAP machine is right for you, it’s important to think about both the benefits and risks. The decision on whether or not the CPAP is your best treatment option will ultimately be between you and your sleep apnea specialist.
As the treatment of choice for patients who have obstructive sleep apnea, the CPAP machine has many benefits. Of course, the primary benefit is that it reduces the number of sleep apnea episodes you have during the night. This means you get the sleep your body needs. When you sleep better at night, you:
- Lower your risk of heart attack
- Are able to focus better during the day
- Improve your mood
The air blown into your airway by the CPAP also leads to less snoring during the night.
Over the years, the CPAP continues to show that it is effective for most patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea. And it’s easy to see the benefits that come with using the CPAP machine. However, there are certain drawbacks that come with the CPAP. It’s important to talk about these and any other concerns you might have with your doctor.
The biggest drawback most people find when it comes to the CPAP machine is discomfort. Wearing a mask over your face while you sleep can be uncomfortable. In fact, some studies show that most patients don’t use their CPAP long-term. Additionally, if you travel a lot, it may be difficult to haul your CPAP around all the time.
The CPAP machine can also have certain side effects, including:
- Nasal congestion
- Dry mouth
- Irritation where the mask covers your face
Dealing with Discomfort
If you are concerned about the discomfort that can come with using a CPAP machine, here are some tips that can help:
- Make sure you get the right size mask
- Try wearing the mask for short periods of time while you’re awake
- Talk to your doctor about adjusting the pressure
- Try different masks to find the one that works for you
Are There Alternatives to the CPAP?
If you have a hard time getting used to the CPAP or you have severe sleep apnea, you may want to consider different treatment options. Luckily, there are both non-surgical and surgical treatments available. The right treatment will largely depend on your individual case.
An oral appliance is another more conservative treatment option for sleep apnea. These appliances are custom-fit mouthguards that are designed to keep your airway open while you sleep. These devices are easy to wear and don’t require a noisy, cumbersome machine, so they are perfect for people who travel a lot.
An oral appliance fits into your mouth like an orthodontic mouthguard. However, it is important that you get the right kind. Many people think they can find one in a store that works, but these appliances have a specific function, so you need to get one that is prescribed by your doctor.
Other Non-Surgical Options
There are several other non-surgical treatment options:
- Weight loss
- Avoiding alcohol
- Changing your position while you sleep
Depending on the cause of your sleep apnea, surgery may be the best way to completely find relief. There are several different types of surgery designed to cure sleep apnea. The most successful surgery is maxillomandibular advancement surgery (MMA). MMA surgery opens the airway by moving your jaw forward.
Underdeveloped or misaligned jaws are two of the main causes of obstructive sleep apnea. A jaw that is too narrow or not aligned properly can cause the lower jaw to recede to the back of the throat. Misaligned jaws can cause problems with the position of your tongue, making it fall back into the airway while you sleep. And when you are sleeping, the airway is blocked even more.
MMA surgery corrects these issues and helps you breathe easier. In fact, MMA surgery is the only permanent solution for obstructive sleep apnea. It’s also the most effective type of surgery with a 95% success rate.
How Do I Know if a CPAP is Right For Me?
The CPAP can be an effective way to deal with the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. It certainly helps reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes for many patients.
However, the CPAP machine should not be the knee-jerk treatment option for everyone. The only way to know if a CPAP is the right treatment for you is to get a thorough diagnosis from a doctor or sleep apnea specialist. You may do just fine with a CPAP. But if you have more severe sleep apnea or if your sleep apnea is caused by an issue with your jaw, you may need to consider other options in order to find real relief.
If you would like to know if the CPAP is the right option for you, or if you would like to discuss other treatments, contact one of our sleep apnea specialists.