What is CPAP, and how does it help people with obstructive sleep apnea?

03 October 2022

CPAP therapy is a chronic treatment and “if the patient stops using it, the apnea and snoring will reoccur, producing the same symptoms experienced before beginning the treatment”, explains Dr Anton Obrador
CPAP sleep apnea

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a system used to treat obstructive sleep apnea by guaranteeing continuous airflow into the airway, thus preventing apnea. Currently, it is a chronic treatment that can improve the quality of life of people who suffer from the condition.

How does it work?

 

CPAP is recommended for patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (recording 15 or more incidents of apnea per hour) or mild obstructive sleep apnea if accompanied by other symptoms that impair quality of life, such as non-restorative sleep, insomnia or a high cardiovascular, cerebrovascular or metabolic burden of disease.

The system uses a turbine-type generator to create airflow with an output pressure into the airway that is higher than the normal intake pressure of ambient air, thanks to its specially designed rotating blades. The airflow generated by the turbine reaches the patient via a tube and a mask that covers their airways.

Automatic systems are one of the most widely used types of CPAP. Unlike their conventional counterparts (which apply a non-varying pressure), these machines alter the airflow according to the patient’s needs throughout the night.

Considerations to bear in mind and side effects

 

Before putting on the mask, patients should moisten their nose by washing it with salt water. The mask must fit correctly without being uncomfortable (different sizes and formats are available). Patients should breathe calmly; it’s common to find it a little challenging to expel air against the flow of the machine during the first few days of use.

Among the side effects, patients report a feeling of suffocation, which tends to improve after the first few days; skin irritation, for which local protection is recommended and a change of mask if appropriate; dryness of the pharynx, which can be improved with hydration or a humidifier; noise, which is why leaks must be avoided; conjunctivitis, which is typically due to the fit of the mask; headache, for which analgesia can be taken; epistaxis, which can be addressed by controlling the humidity and temperature of the environment and seeking medical assessment if persistent; postural aerophagia or a feeling of too much pressure, which may be improved by trying a lower pressure.

To correctly maintain the equipment, all the consumables should be cleaned with warm water and mild soap, avoiding abrasive products (bleach, alcohol, etc.) and ensuring the equipment is not exposed to direct heat from the sun or radiators.

Currently, CPAP therapy is a chronic treatment and “if the patient stops using it, the apnea and snoring will reoccur, producing the same symptoms experienced before beginning the treatment”, adds Dr Anton Obrador, coordinator of the Innobics Sahs project.

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