If you have read our article on CPAP, consulted your doctor, and determined that CPAP therapy can help alleviate your sleep apnea, then you’ll need to spend some time shopping for the right CPAP machine.
How does it work? We found this great short video that explains perfectly how a CPAP unit helps a sleep apnea sufferer manage proper breathing through the night.
The prevalence of sleep apnea, estimated to affect 6% of North Americans, combined with the effectiveness of CPAP therapy have led to a large market and diversity of CPAP machines. To narrow down your selection, you can focus on the following primary features.
Fixed, automatic, or bi-level
The first step in choosing a CPAP machine is deciding between fixed, automatic, or bi-level pressure.
The fixed-pressure CPAP blows a set air pressure throughout the night, opening the air tract, and preventing apneas and hypopneas. The pressure level is typically determined by your doctor or a physician after an overnight study, to cater it to your specific needs.
The automatic or auto-adjusting CPAP adjusts air pressure throughout the night, adapting to your breathing fluctuations. The machine senses snoring, apneas, and hypopneas and responds accordingly. Other features include pressure relief, where pressure is softened between inhalation and exhalation, and ramp, which starts the air flow at a lower prescribed pressure, allowing you adequate time to fall asleep before the full pressure is applied.
The bi-level CPAP is the option in-between fixed and auto CPAP. It has two pressure levels that alternate with inhalation and exhalation in a set or sensed rhythm allowing for easier breathing, similar to the pressure relief feature in the autoCPAP unit. However, the two pressure levels are fixed, and the machine is unable to alter pressure levels outside these points.
If you still can’t decide, some advanced, and more expensive, units have all three operations (fixed, auto, and bi-level) as setting.
All three types have a sound range between 26 to 30 dB. For those of us not versed in decibels, 30 dB is comparable to a “whisper quiet library” according to Galen Carol Audio.
Your mobility is a considerable factor in CPAP unit selection. If you’re a frequent flyer or traveler, a compact unit is imperative.
Overall, CPAP machines are relatively small and light, the smallest being easily held in your hand like a large cellphone and weighing around 285g (10oz), but sizes do vary.
If you might sleep in a location without electricity, an integrated battery should be considered. They are also useful if power-outages occur.
Altitude changes also need to be taken into account, some units adjust automatically for this.
The two most common and useful gadgets are humidifiers and data loggers. Humidifiers are a wonderful solution to the common complaint of dry, stuffy noses with CPAP use, while data logging allows you to monitor your CPAP night use and identify possible leaks. Be sure to verify that the CPAP unit’s software is compatible with your computer’s operating system (Windows, Mac, etc.).
Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly download your CPAP data onto your smartphone or tablet, and leak compensation are other options on a long list of possible features.
CPAP units are relatively expensive and range from $220 to $2,000+ USD ($287 t0 $2600 CDN) depending on the model and selected features. Luckily, because CPAP machines are typically only available by prescription, they are often covered by insurance.
If you haven’t already selected a mask for your CPAP machine, check out our article on selecting the right mask for your needs.