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How Does CPAP Therapy Work?

By Andrew Hill       08/03/2018

Although millions of Americans are affected by sleep apnea, the majority of cases remain undiagnosed. With the host of negative health effects associated with untreated sleep apnea, it is imperative to start treatment as early as possible. Typically non-invasive sleep apnea management and treatment consist of utilizing continuous positive airway pressure therapy—or CPAP for short. CPAP therapy generally includes a brief adjustment period, but the benefits of this therapy far exceed any initial discomfort that may be experienced. So, what makes CPAP therapy such a popular method of sleep apnea treatment? See for yourself with our breakdown below.

What does CPAP therapy treat?

CPAP therapy is most commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which airways become periodically blocked during sleep. A blocked airway typically results in shallow—or labored—breathing, disrupting sleep and causing the individual to wake several times throughout the night. Since these lapses in breathing happen while asleep, even those with more severe cases may not identify an issue in the first place, although they may feel symptoms such as frequent fatigue or depression. As a result, it is typically a spouse or family member that initially notices the labored breathing, or excessive snoring.

Invasive procedures were historically the norm for obstructive sleep apnea management and treatment until the invention of the first CPAP machine in 1980. This invention was further improved upon in the 90s, becoming a widely popular solution that allowed millions of Americans to treat sleep apnea comfortably in their own home. This popularity has yet to decline, as the CPAP machine remains the standard non-surgical treatment option for sleep apnea.

How Does Sleep Therapy Diagnosis and Treatment work?

The first step for undiagnosed patients is to take our online Sleepiness Epworth Exam. If you score over a 10, the results can be printed or emailed securely to your physician. If sleep apnea is suspected—physicians may refer patients to Home Sleep Delivered for a Home Sleep Test. As a Home Sleep Delivered patient, we will ship the wearable sleep apnea testing device immediately with return postage included. The simple instructions included with box provide a guided setup while the wearable device captures your sleeping data in the comfort of your own bed.

Once we receive the testing device back, our licensed sleep specialists analyze and provide the sleep data to your physician.  If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your physician may prescribe you to use CPAP therapy. The basic function of this therapy is to provide continuous air pressure via the CPAP mask or nasal pillows, so that the airway won’t collapse while asleep—allowing you to breathe freely. Since it is designed for home use, CPAP machines are simple to assemble and extremely user-friendly. The machine itself consists of three components:

  • Motor—The CPAP motor has multiple functions. It draws in and purifies the air so that it is clear of dust and particles. It also contains a humidifier to moisten and heat the air, so that the machine doesn’t dry out your throat or lungs.
  • Hose—A CPAP hose is also heated to prevent condensation as the air transfers from the motor. It is typically about 6 feet long to allow you free range of motion while sleeping.
  • Mask—No mask is the same because each wearer has different comfort needs. The three varieties of masks are full-face masks that cover both the nose and mouth, nasal masks that cover only the nose or nasal pillows—prongs that fit inside the nose.


What are the benefits of CPAP therapy?

Arguably one of the biggest benefits of CPAP therapy is that it provides a non-surgical alternative to managing sleep apnea. When used as prescribed, CPAP therapy may help improve not only quality of life, but also the life expectancy of those diagnosed with sleep apnea. It should go without being said that the biggest immediate, short-term benefit of prescribed CPAP therapy is an improved overall quality of sleep. Directly addressing a blocked airway with continuous positive air pressure can help users consistently achieve a quality night’s rest, which can translate to long-term benefits as well. By improving users’ overall sleep quality, the potential health implications associated with untreated sleep apnea may be prevented, in addition to promoting a healthier lifestyle. CPAP therapy isn’t just about the user, however. It helps cut down on snoring, which is great news for your sleep-deprived partner, too!

What are the dangers of not using a prescribed CPAP device?

It is critical that you use your CPAP device every night if prescribed, as inconsistent use can have a host of dangerous consequences. In the long term, untreated sleep apnea can lead to increased risk of heart conditions such as heart failure, heart attack, arrhythmias and high blood pressure. It can also increase your risk of diabetes, stroke, obesity and accidents due to a lack of alertness. To ensure consistent use of a CPAP machine, comfort is the key. Make sure that the mask fits your face comfortably and that when you secure it at night you don’t overly tighten it, as this is one of the common causes of discomfort. If you feel that your throat and lungs are too dry, experimenting with the humidifier may help. If you continue to have discomfort, you can speak to your medical provider for advice.

Consult your physician or a licensed sleep specialist if you believe you may be suffering from sleep apnea. Although sleep apnea remains largely undiagnosed and untreated for millions of Americans, it is far from being something to ignore. Fortunately, effective treatment options—such as CPAP therapy—can make this disorder much more manageable.