Patient Resource Center

123 Capcom Avenue, Suite 3 Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587 Tel: 919-570-5277 Fax: 919-570-5377

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Sleep and CPAP Guide

What is CPAP?

Continuous passive airway pressure, or CPAP, is a respiratory therapy most commonly used to treat sleep apnea. In this therapy, air set at a steady pressure is pumped from the machine through a tube and a mask into the airway to help keep it open and prevent apneas from occurring.

This treatment was developed by Dr. George Gregory and his colleagues in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of California-San Francisco. As discussed in the previous page, sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing while sleeping because of a blocked airway (obstructive sleep apnea). The pressurized air from the CPAP machine forces the tongue, the soft tissue in the throat and the rest of the airway to stay open during inhaling and exhaling.

CPAP therapy must be used every night to be effective. It is administered through either a full face mask that covers both the nose and the mouth, a nasal mask or a nasal pillow that “hooks” directly into the nostrils. While the nasal breathing devices for those who breathe only through their nose while they sleep, the full face masks are for combination nose and mouth breathers. The mask is kept in place by adjustable straps that go around your head.

CPAP machines are relatively quiet, giving off a soft rhythmic sound. The pressure settings are determined by your doctor based on the severity of your sleep apnea that was found during your sleep study. CPAP therapy is the standard treatment for sleep apnea that millions of people use. However, it does come with its own set of challenges.