Sleep Apnea and Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) Devices
Effect of Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) Devices on Sleep Apnea
CPAP devices are very effective, and are the gold standard for treating sleep apnea. The biggest obstacles are cost, compliance, and correct fit and usage. When considering using a CPAP, it is important to remember that this is not a cure for sleep apnea, but a long-term solution that requires consistent use to maintain the benefits.CPAP Machine. Image: Healthwise International. There are several different systems available that deliver air and pressure through the nose or mouth. The continuous delivery of pressurized air helps to keep the tissues in the throat open. Some CPAP masks fit over the mouth and nose, others fit over only the nose. Machines available have varying levels of sophistication, ranging from:
- Delivering preset amount of air at a preset unit of pressure.
- Delivering more pressure with every inhalation and a bit less with every exhalation.
- Monitoring breathing and adding pressure only if the machine senses a breathing abnormality.
CPAP devices do provide clear and consistent benefits, and are a great alternative to surgery.
Research Evidence on Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) Devices
In mild cases, CPAP machines have been shown to improve scores on a symptom assessment, mental flexibility, and daytime depression. However, in these mild cases CPAP does not improve daytime sleepiness. 1
One study showed that prolonged (2+ years) use of a CPAP machine in 9 patients at risk of developing diabetes who also had Obstructive Sleep Apnea Synrdome (OSAS) improved insulin sensitivity.2
Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment
Your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist). They will give you a physical exam, and if they determine that a CPAP is right for you, they will send you to a sleep technician for a polysomnogram.
The sleep technician will determine the amount of pressure necessary for your CPAP. They will also ensure that the mask fits correctly, which will be one of the major determinants of the success of the machine.
Side Effects and Warnings
CPAP devices are often bulky and can be uncomfortable if not fitted properly. Side effects include dry nose and/or mouth, irritated skin, headache, and nosebleeds in rare cases.
1Engleman, HM et al. “Effect of CPAP therapy on daytime function in patients with mild sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome.” Thorax 52, no 3 (1997): 114-119.
2Schahin, Simin et al. “Long-term improvement of insulin sensitivity during CPAP therapy in the Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome,” Medical Science Monitor 14, no 3 (1995).