Got sleep apnea and been told you need CPAP? What is CPAP?

Many people have heard about CPAP, or even been told they need to use CPAP to treat their sleep apnea, but what is CPAP and how does it work? This video shows you what CPAP is and gives helpful advice when getting started on CPAP.

Video Timeline:

  • 00:00 – 01:19 How does CPAP work?
  • 01:19 – 02:45 CPAP pump or flow generator
  • 02:45 – 03:15 CPAP tubing
  • 03:15 – 03:54 CPAP mask interfaces
  • 03:54 – 04:34 Importance of having a good distributor or homeware company

Details of equipment shown in video:

CPAP machines / flow generators:

Mask interfaces:

Related posts & links:

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One of the really effective treatments for sleep apnea is a treatment called continuous positive airway pressure or better known as CPAP. So lots of people have heard of CPAP but there are a lot of preconceptions about it.

I’m going to try and show you what it is and give you an understanding of how it works. People get obstructive sleep apnea because of muscle relaxation in the back of the airway. When we go to sleep and particularly when we’re lying down, you get relaxation of upper airway muscles including the tongue muscles and that can cause a narrowing in the back of the airway and either a partial obstruction which results in snoring or even a complete obstruction or what we call an apnea when people can stop breathing.

One of the ways of managing that is using air pressure and that’s what CPAP does. So the principle is you have an airtight mask that either goes over the nose, nose and mouth, or some pillows that just push into the nose and they attach via some tubing to a flow generator or a pump that sits on the bedside table.

The air pressure generated by that flow generator by pushing air through the tubing creates a positive pressure in the back of the airway. So when the muscles relax, instead of things closing over, the airway is held open. Very effective treatment for snoring and sleep apnea but it does take a bit of getting used to.

There are three main components to a CPAP system. So there’s the pump itself for flow generator in technical terms and they come in machines that are suitable to sit on a bedside table, so they will plug into the electricity. It has a pump. You can control the humidification or the amount of moisture and heat in the circuit and there’s a water chamber with the machines as well that you put water in and that adds humidity and moisture to the circuit.

There are also some smaller machines that are suitable for – used as a portable device, so something that can run off a battery pack. You can take it with you, throw it in a bag when you’re traveling. So it’s not always going to be something big and clunky that’s hard to take with you.

In terms of how the machines work, the flow generators come in two main styles. So one style is called auto titrating or auto adjusting PAP and some people call that APAP. Those machines have the ability to sense what’s happening in the back of the airway across the night and vary the pressure depending on what’s actually happening in the airway. So if you’re on your back, you may need to deliver a higher pressure for example than when you’re on your side.

The simple machines are called fixed pressure or continuous pressure or CPAP machines and they are set. So they provide the same pressure across the night irrespective of what’s going on at a particular point in time across the night.

The CPAP machines are generally a bit cheaper, often even hundreds of dollars cheaper than the APAP machines, but some people do find the APAP machines a little more comfortable.

One of the other components of the CPAP circuit is the tubing. It seems pretty boring but the tubing has actually been where there has been quite a lot of innovation recently and most modern machines now would have heated tubing that allows the air in the tube to be kept warmer and therefore contain a lot more moisture without it condensing and forming water particles in the tubing.

They used to be a problem particularly in Melbourne where we get cold nights and people would wake with water sloshing in the tubing or water in the mask. But now we have heated tubes that are much less of a problem.

The third component to a CPAP circuit is the interface or the mask that’s used to actually attach it to your face. There are three main styles of masks. There’s a style that goes just over the nose, a style that goes over the nose and mouth and a third newer style called nasal pillows which fit just up into the nostrils.

From my point of view they all work pretty well and it comes down to personal preference and what style of mask suits a particular person. It’s really up to individual choice.

The key there to getting CPAP working well is the mask interface and so having someone that’s experienced in feeding them and is able to swap them out and let you try different ones is one of the keys to really getting established on CPAP.

I also find when people are first starting on CPAP, having the support of an experienced CPAP provider or a homecare company really can make the difference between struggling with CPAP or going really well and getting through that troubleshooting period and getting established and being able to use treatment in the longer term.

So don’t be too frightened of using CPAP. It’s actually not as intimidating or a thing to be feared as much as what a lot of people think about and a lot of it can look a little strange. It’s a very effective treatment for snoring and severe obstructive sleep apnea.

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