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How does CPAP work

What is CPAP and how does CPAP work?

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) uses a machine to help a person who has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) breathe more easily during sleep. A CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway does not collapse when you breathe in. When you use CPAP, your bed partner may sleep better, too.

You use CPAP at home every night while you sleep.

The CPAP machine will have one of the following attached to it:

  • A mask that covers your nose and mouth known as a full face CPAP mask
  • A mask that covers your nose only-called nasal continuous positive airway pressure, or NCPAP (this type of mask is most common) known as a nasal CPAP mask
  • A mask that fits directly into the base of your nose, with pillow type cushions that seal around your nostrils, known as a nasal pillows CPAP mask

There are different types of CPAP machines, ones that offer fixed air pressure and ones that offer automatically adjusted air pressure, often known as Auto or APAP machines. APAP machines are popular as the air pressure differs when you breathe in and out so may offer more comfort.

Find out more about Fixed Pressure Machines and APAP machines

What To Expect After Treatment

Treatment can help you achieve the quality sleep you are after, helping you improve your symptoms associated with sleep apnea, and have a positive impact on your health and well-being. It may take time for you to adjust to using CPAP. If you are struggling to get used to it, talk to your doctor. You might be able to try another type of mask or make other adjustments which will help you feel much more comfortable with your therapy.

Why It Is Done

CPAP is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

It is the first treatment choice, and is the most widely used. It is considered the gold standard of treatment for sleep apnea.

How Well It Works

Overall, CPAP is effective for obstructive sleep apnea and will reduce or stop your snoring. It is widely regarded as the most effective way to treat OSA.1 Research shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) decreases daytime sleepiness, especially in those who have moderate to severe sleep apnea.1

Difficulties with CPAP

Problems that may occur with CPAP include:

  • Dry nose and sore throat.
  • Nightmares and excessive dreaming during early use.
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
  • Irritation of the eyes and the skin on the face.
  • Abdominal bloating.
  • Leaks around the mask because it does not fit properly.

You can expect mild discomfort in the morning when you first start using CPAP. Talk with your doctor if you do not feel comfortable after a few days.

Combating initial issues using your CPAP

We may be able to adjust your CPAP to reduce or eliminate problems.

Be sure the mask or nasal prongs fit you properly. Air should not leak around the mask.

Use a humidifier or a corticosteroid nasal spray medicine to reduce nasal irritation and drainage.

You may want to talk to us about trying a CPAP machine that will start with a low air pressure and slowly increase the air pressure as you fall asleep. This kind of machine can help reduce discomfort caused by too much constant pressure in your nose. If this does not improve your discomfort, ask us about trying a bilevel positive airway pressure machine (BiPAP), which uses a different air pressure when you breathe in than when you breathe out. BiPAP may work better than standard CPAP for treating obstructive sleep apnea in people who have heart failure. BiPAP machines are more expensive than CPAP machines.

If your nose is runny or congested, talk with your doctor about using decongestants or corticosteroid nasal spray medicines.

What To Think About

When you are using CPAP, it can be useful to see your doctor or sleep centre regularly.

You may also need more sleep studies to adjust the CPAP machine and check whether the treatment is working.

The machines are an expensive purchase. You may want to take a rent-to-buy option instead whereby you pay off the machine each month over a time period. Or you may choose to rent a CPAP machine first.

The most common problem with CPAP is that people do not use the machine every night. Or they take off the mask during the night because it becomes uncomfortable. Even one night of not using the machine can make you sleepy the next day.

Getting your treatment right can make a world of difference to your well-being, how you feel, the energy you have each day, your mood and your overall health.

What next?

If you would like to talk to us more about how CPAP therapy can help treat your sleep apnea, get in touch today.

We offer a 14 day CPAP trial to let you try out therapy and see what works for you.

Or if you are ready to take the next step to better sleep, take a look through our range of CPAP machines and CPAP masks.



Weaver T.E., et al. 2007 “Relationship between hours of CPAP Use and Achieving Normal levels of Sleepiness and Daily Function” Sleep, vol. 30, No. 6, pp. 711-719