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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Continuous positive airway pressure, better known as CPAP, is the most common treatment for patients diagnosed with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition in which the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep, preventing the lungs from getting enough oxygen. This causes snoring, gasping and frequent awakenings among other symptoms.

If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to more serious medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

With CPAP, you wear a mask that fits over your nose and mouth while you sleep. The mask is connected via a tube to a machine that sends a steady and gentle stream of pressurized air through your airways, keeping them open and reducing symptoms of sleep apnea.

Is CPAP right for me?

Most people consult their primary care physician when they have problems with sleeping or daytime sleepiness, or are told about their snoring or sleep apnea symptoms by a family member.

Your doctor may refer you a sleep specialist, who may order a sleep study (polysomnogram). This overnight study measures your brain activity, heart rate, eye movement, blood pressure and other data while you sleep.

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you may need another sleep study called a CPAP titration study:

  • It is used to measure your sleep activity both with and without a CPAP machine.
  • During the test, the most optimal setting for your CPAP machine is determined. 
  • Sometimes a split-night study can be performed during your initial sleep study, where you attempt to use a CPAP machine during the second half of the night.

Benefits of CPAP

  • Your airway will stay open all night, allowing air to reach your lungs.
  • You will sleep better because you won't be waking up multiple times each night.
  • You will snore less because your airway will stay open.
  • Those close to you will sleep better because you are snoring less.
  • Your high blood pressure may improve with better blood oxygen levels and sleep quality.
  • Symptoms of sleep apnea, such as daytime sleepiness, will be reduced or even eliminated.

Choosing a CPAP machine

There are many different types of CPAP machines, with various styles of masks. You will work with a home equipment provider, sometimes called durable medical equipment or DME, to select a CPAP machine that is right for you.

It takes most people time to get used to sleeping with a mask on. It is important to let your doctor know if you are having problems because another machine may be better for you.

What if I can't use a CPAP mask?

For those patients that cannot use a CPAP device, you should not give up on the first attempt. Specialists at Rush can work to help you find a different type of mask or alternative therapy. 

If you are unable to tolerate CPAP, a thorough airway evaluation with specialists in the Section of Sleep Surgery can determine if there are any anatomic reasons for your inability to use a mask. The doctor will also evaluate whether you are a good candidate for an alternative therapy, such as surgery. Learn more about the full range of sleep surgery options available at Rush.

Why choose Rush for sleep apnea treatment with CPAP

  • Coordinated sleep care: The Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush was the first such center in Illinois and the first in the region to receive accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (then the American Sleep Disorders Association). Since the center opened in 1978, it has welcomed more than 20,000 patients.
  • Experience you can trust: Sleep specialists at Rush have expertise diagnosing and treating a full range of conditions that cause central and obstructive sleep apnea — from the common to the most complex. They will work together, and with you, to address the problem and improve your sleep, which may include CPAP or another therapy.
  • Innovative treatments: Specialists in the Section of Sleep Surgery offer a full range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for sleep apnea for those patients who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy. They are among the first in the U.S. to offer upper airway stimulation therapy (e.g., Inspire therapy), an implantable device that helps keep the airway open during sleep. Learn more about upper airway stimulation.