Continuous Positive Airway Pressure: This Therapy Could Be a Life Saver

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is a leading therapeutic option in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder, considered to be one of the worst types of sleep disorders affecting 18 million American adults, happens when the throat muscles collapse during sleep and become incapable of keeping the airways open.

Obstructive sleep apnea is marked by repeated pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. While a single pause lasts for more than 10 seconds, depending on the seriousness of the condition, the patient may experience 5 to 30 such pauses in an hour.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is not only ‘life-changing’ for the sufferer of the distressful apnea symptoms but also beneficial for the person sharing the same bed. According to a report published in Chest (Kiely and McNicholas, Vol. 111, 1997), use of this therapy option eliminates the disturbing snoring and apnea sounds during sleep which in turn provides restful sleep for the partner as well as the patient.

What is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy and how does it work? 

This therapy involves providing artificial and mechanical ventilation to the patient by way of pumping in pre-measured, mildly pressurized air directly in to the lungs to keep the airway open during sleep.

The complete equipment set comprises of three main parts:

  1. The CPAP machine with a built-in motor for generating the pressurized air
  2. The mask that covers the nose or nose and mouth. While the mask is the inlet for the air to enter the airway, it is kept in place with the help of straps, headgear, etc.
  3. Tubing that connects the mask to the motor of the machine.

Usually small, lightweight and generally quiet, the device may also have additional features like heated humidifiers, etc.

CPAP works in the following manner:

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, usually weighing about 5 pounds is typically kept on a bedside table. This device generates a steady stream of pressurized air that is conveyed through the tube to the mask from where the user inhales as well as exhales.

The doctor or attending nurse usually helps the patient to select the mask as well as adjusts the pressure-setting of the device. The amount of pressure a patient needs vary according to the severity of the condition, revealed during the overnight sleep study.

In case there is no improvement in the quality of sleep, doctors may suggest adjustments in the machine. Instructions to operate the machine as well as how to use the mask, etc are always provided either by the health provider or the company representative who is supplying the machine at home.

What kinds of problems are faced during use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy? 

Though most of the initial problems faced by users, especially who are using this therapy for the first time, are resolved either through practice or making minor adjustments, some typical complaints reported include:

–          Feeling of claustrophobia, especially after fitting the mask.

–          Chest discomfort

–          Skin irritation around the nose

–          Nasal congestion; dry nose or mouth

–          Bleeding from nose

–          Upper respiratory infections.

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