What is CPAP? CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is a non invasive respiratory treatment that uses a mild stream of air to prevent the collapse of the upper airway. It is used by people with sleep apnea , chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or in premature infants whose lungs have not fully developed. Such babies might have bronchopulmonary dysplasia or respiratory distress syndrome. The first CPAP machine was invented in 1980 by Australian physician Colin Sullivan, who was interested in the upper respiratory airway and its role in cot death or crib death.
The device has three main parts: a face mask that fits over the nose or the nose and mouth that is held in place by straps; a tube connecting the mask to the machine s motor; and a motor to generate an air stream that flows into the airway via the tube and the mask. The flow of air through the system is measured in liters per minute.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder characterized by interruptions of breathing during sleep. Sufferers stop breathing as often as hundreds of times in a night. The condition is more common in men than in women and is rare under the age of forty. Other risk factors include being overweight, having a large neck (greater than 17 inches in men or 16 inches in women), having large tonsils and a family history of sleep apnea.
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. Of the two types, OSA is by far the more common and it is this type for which CPAP is often prescribed. In this condition, the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep blocking the flow of oxygen inward and carbon dioxide outward.
Left untreated, the condition can lead to high blood pressure, stroke or heart failure. More immediately, it can cause poor performance at work, daytime sleepiness and dangerous driving or handling of machinery leading to accidents.
People who use the equipment report feeling better right away. They awake feeling more refreshed and feel alert throughout the day. This leads to increased activity and assists weight loss and reduces blood pressure within a few months of continuous use.
Persisting with treatment requires a high level of commitment on the part of the patient. Sleeping with a mask can be uncomfortable. It is not uncommon for users to unconsciously peel off the mask while they are sleeping, although this can be combatted to some extent by simply adjusting the straps so that it requires effort to remove. It is difficult to speak against an inflow of air so the device is somewhat antisocial. It can also interfere with intimacy and affection.
It is important to clean and disinfect the equipment regularly, especially the mask and the hose. Exhaled breath is warm and moist, perfect breeding conditions for bacteria and other microorganisms. Not only is it unhygienic to breathe this material in night after night, it can break down the delicate materials used in the construction of the equipment.
CPAP treatment can be highly effective in treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. For some patients, the improvement in the quality of sleep and quality of life due to CPAP treatment will be noticed after a single night's use.