The Most Effective Treatment for OSA – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

June 2, 2009

fatigue, sleep apnea, snoring

As many as 4% of all adults have some degree of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is used to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

What is OSA?

During sleep, the upper airway collapses and causes an obstruction. This cuts off your airflow and results in a pause in your breathing and what can be a very brief awakening. The pauses in breathing are called apneas and it’s the apneas that wake you up. Most of the time you won’t even know that you have woken up, but your bedpartner often hears a loud gasp or choking sound when your body realizes it is no longer breathing. Loud snoring can be a sign that you might have OSA. Apneas can occur hundreds of times during the night and this can ruin the quality of your sleep and lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability and loss of sex drive.

How does CPAP work?

CPAP eliminates the upper airway obstructions by providing pressurized air through the nose to keep the airway open. If air is going in all the time, the airway cannot collapse. For CPAP to be effective you must use it every night.

How do I get a CPAP device?

The first step is to be tested in a sleep lab to see if you have OSA. If you do have OSA, you will be asked to spend an additional night in the sleep lab so that they can set you up with a CPAP device. Sometimes the OSA diagnosis and CPAP fitting can all be done in one night. When you go to bed, the technologist will set you up on a CPAP machine. It consists of a mask which you wear over your nose and an air pump. Velcro straps are used to hold the mask in place. The air runs through a hose connected to the CPAP pump on the nightstand beside your bed. At first it may seem overwhelming, obtrusive and annoying, but try to keep an open mind. The technologist will set the CPAP device so that it delivers only a low air pressure through the mask and into your nose. Try to relax and breathe normally. After you fall asleep, the technologist will increase the pressure slightly when he or she detects apneas. The pressure will continue to be increased throughout the night until the apneas and snoring stop. The technologist will make a note of how much air pressure was needed to eliminate your apnea. Your CPAP machine will be set at that level.

What’s next? Do I take the CPAP home with me?

No, you don’t take the CPAP unit from the sleep lab. You will have to contact a CPAP supplier. They will set you up with a comfortably fitting mask, go through all of the instructions and give you a machine to take home. Remember to use it every night. Many of the CPAP units are compact, so you can easily travel with them.

Check out some  tips to make your CPAP experience easier:  CPAP Tips


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