What is CPAP Therapy?

When reading about sleep apnea, scientifically referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), CPAP therapy is often mentioned somewhere on the page. Although acronyms are splendid in shortening lengthy names, they often leave much to the imagination as to what they stand for. So, what is CPAP, and how is it relevant to sleep apnea?

CPAP

CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is a standard therapy method for sleep apnea that has proven successful in treating apnea symptoms in numerous clinical trails.

It was originally developed in 1971 by doctors at the University of California San Francisco to treat infants with severe respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). The treatment proved so effective that it was later used to treat other respiratory problems such as sleep apnea. Thankfully, technical advances have been made since the seventies, and the hospitals and iron-lung-esk machines used back then are no longer necessary.

Today, CPAP is administered using a variety of lightweight masks attached to portable pressure machines, which gently blow air into and opens the respiratory passage allowing airflow.

The machines themselves are becoming more-and-more high-tech. Automatic CPAP machines can sense snoring, hypopnoeas, and apnoeas, and adjust the pressure accordingly; they can have built-in heated humidifiers, data tracking, even Bluetooth, and are not audible in the average bedroom.

See our articles on CPAP masks and CPAP machines for more information about models and finding the right one.

Results

In all clinical studies, CPAP therapy saw a decrease in sleep apnea symptoms, and an improvement in patient well-being. In general, patients saw a decrease in daytime sleepiness, decreased depression, increased energy, improved cognitive function (concentration and problem solving), and vastly improved mood. After treatment, patients even reported improved social life, sex life, and ability to carry out domestic chores.

Furthermore, CPAP use saw a pronounced reduction in both day and night arterial blood pressure, reduced cardiovascular risk, and increased blood gas exchange (increased blood oxygen levels).

These results held true for both mild and severe cases of sleep apnea.

After reading the above findings, CPAP might be sounding unrealistically perfect, a cure-all tonic peddled by shifty roadside salesmen. For the encumbering and debilitating apnea symptoms it cures, it is quite spectacular, but, as with all things, there are a few drawbacks.

Drawbacks

Let’s admit it, having to wear a mask to bed is not an ideal situation. CPAP therapy

Discomfort, restricted mobility (for us sleepers who like to toss and turn), dry, stuffy nose, difficulty tolerating forced air, and a claustrophobic feeling are all common complaints.

A price range starting around $220 USD  ($285 CDN) and reaching $2,000+ USD ($2600 CDN) is also a serious drawback for many people.   

The Mayo Clinic has a well-written article on their website offering solutions to most of these complaints. As for the price, speak with your doctor to see if there are ways to receive financial assistance, either from your insurance or another source.

Overall, CPAP therapy’s simple yet highly effective function has been a miraculous, life-returning gift for many people suffering form sleep apnea. When used properly, it can do wonders. If you’re interested in trying CPAP therapy, talk to your doctor or sleep specialist.

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