CPAP, which stands for ‘continuous positive airway pressure,’ is recognized by many as the ‘preferred treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.’ In other words… in the world of snoring treatments, with obstructive sleep apnea being the ‘worst of the worst’ as far as conditions involving snoring are concerned… CPAP is the number-one gun that is used to help defeat it.
Article at a Glance:
- 1 How Is A CPAP Machine Meant To Work?
- 2 Do We Believe That This Method Works?
CPAP technology is harnessed through a machine, called a CPAP machine. This machine builds up positive pressure, and delivers it to the airway via a mask. This mask must be worn while the user is asleep to benefit him or her, and delivers a steady stream of positive pressure to help keep the airways open while the muscles and tissues of the soft palate are relaxing.
But is CPAP really as good a treatment as everyone says? If so, then why does it seem to get such a bad rap online?
Here is what you need to know.
How Is A CPAP Machine Meant To Work?
So the concept behind the CPAP machine is pretty simple. Most cases of snoring (as well as most cases of obstructive sleep apnea) are caused by a phenomenon known as soft palate vibration. This happens when the soft tissues and muscles in the back of the throat relax and ‘collapse in’ on the airway. This either restricts or completely blocks the airway, and can lead to either a vibration of the tissue as the air moves through while breathing (resulting in snoring), or a complete halt in the movement of air altogether (resulting in an ‘apnea’).
But CPAP machines help to treat this problem by increasing the air pressure in the airway. The CPAP machine creates positive air pressure, and feeds this into the airway via the mask that is worn while the user sleeps. This increase in air pressure ‘pushes back’ against the collapsing walls of the soft palate – thus creating more room for the air to move through, and helping to solve (or at least minimize) the snoring/sleep apnea problem.
That is the idea behind CPAP machines and how they treat snoring.
Please note that the standard CPAP machines are quite different when comparing to micro CPAP devices.
Do We Believe That This Method Works?
CPAP machines are one of the best tools we have in the fight against sleep apnea. They are also, by default, very good at helping to treat snoring.
But they are also not without their downsides.
Yes, CPAP machines work… but did you know that the US National Library of Medicine stated, in a recent report, that only 30 to 60 percent of CPAP users actually use their machine every night?
This might seem strange to think about – but it is true. The rest of CPAP users either use their machines very sporadically, or not at all.
But why? Why would users forgo the machine that could help them to sleep better when that machine is literally sitting right next to their bed?
The answer, unfortunately, is hiding in plain sight. In order to use a CPAP machine, you must wear a mask – which is not only invasive, but also pretty labor-intensive. And for some people, it is even embarrassing… so that is a negative thing as well!
We do like CPAP machines because they have been proven to help with both snoring and sleep apnea – but before they can be useful, they need to be used regularly. And therein lies the greatest problem with CPAP therapy.
Who Should Use This Type Of Product, And When?
Anyone who gets a sleep study and is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea could use a CPAP machine. There is obviously no one-size-fits-all to medicine, but this is the preferred treatment for OSA, and for good reason.
You will need to use the device every night, however, if you wish to see results.
Who Should Avoid Using This Type Of Product?
You should not use CPAP if you have not had your sleep apnea diagnosed by a doctor. You should also not use a CPAP machine unless it has been adjusted by a licensed technician. People with really severe allergies may not be able to get comfortable with the device, and people with very sensitive skin might develop too much irritation where the mask sits against the face to really be able to use it effectively.
The History of CPAP Therapy
CPAP was invented by a man named Colin Sullivan. According to a retelling of the experience, Colin said that the invention was first tested on a June night in 1980. He had been working on the idea for several months, but had yet to find the proper patient to test it with. But a respiratory patient who came under his care at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital proved to be the perfect first candidate.
According to reports, this man’s sleep apnea was so bad that Dr. Colin Sullivan immediately recommended a tracheotomy as an urgent procedure to treat it. But the man refused surgery. He did, however, volunteer for the pressure experiment… and the rest was history.
The device worked so well that even Colin, the inventor, was astounded!
Of course, CPAP machines have come a long way since then! That first machine consisted of the experimental breathing circuit, plastic tubes, and rapid-setting silicone sealant to keep the air pressure from diminishing before it could do its job.
Nowadays, CPAP comes in a wide variety of different styles, and is adjusted down to the smallest detail to ensure that it is perfectly dialed-in to the patient’s individual needs.
Scientific Evidence for CPAP Technology
Clinical studies are one of the best tools at our disposal when it comes to figuring out whether treatments like CPAP actually work or not. And thankfully, there have been quite a few studies done on CPAP therapy.
CPAP therapy has actually been tested quite a bit, and there are quite a few studies to point to if you are trying to demonstrate its effectiveness.
For example, in a study called Effectiveness of CPAP Treatment in Daytime Function in Sleep Apnea Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Study with an Optimized Placebo, it was demonstrated that real CPAP machines worked much better to help patients with Sleep Apnea-related daytime sleepiness than a sham CPAP machine, which functioned as the placebo in the test.
This was the first time that a CPAP was tested alongside a placebo, and the real device passed with flying colors—proving that the benefits aren’t a placebo effect.
In another study, called Relationship Between Hours of CPAP Use and Achieving Normal Levels of Sleepiness and Daily Functioning, it was stated that although evidence suggested that CPAP should be used every night to treat OSA, it was not known to what extent it should be used on a nightly basis for maximum benefit.
The study was coordinated between seven sleep centers in the United States and Canada, and included patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea. In the end, it was proven that the longer a patient wears their CPAP machine at night, the better they are able to function during the day… though what actually constitutes as ‘adequate use’ varies depending on factors and different outcomes.
There are a LOT of studies out there about CPAP and how good of a job it does. These two examples, listed above, are just a couple of the positive case-studies that support its effectiveness.
How Can You Overcome Some of the Downsides of CPAP?
As stated before, there are a number of downsides to using this type of therapy to treat OSA and snoring… the predominant one being that many people tend not to continue using the therapy consistently. There are several reasons for this, but it usually comes down to the fact that you have to wear a mask to use CPAP. This can be…
- Difficult to get used to
- Or even embarrassing!
So how can you overcome these problems and increase your odds of success with CPAP?
That is an awesome question, but we have a few suggestions that might really help.
#1… If your Mask is Uncomfortable, Try a Different One
There are all kinds of masks available for CPAP therapy… so if the first attempt doesn’t go so well, you may need to think about getting a different mask. This is the piece that integrates the machine with your own body, and serves as the most significant point of contact between yourself and the device during therapy.
Plus, you are going to have to be wearing this mask every night if you hope to make the best use of your CPAP therapy!
For this reason, it is absolutely essential to get a mask that fits you perfectly. So if you are having trouble with your CPAP machine, try to focus on exactly what is going wrong. What exactly are you feeling that tends to make you want to take off the mask and discontinue use of the machine?
If you can figure out exactly what the problem is, you may be able to figure out what changes you need to make to get it working right for you.
#2… Practice Makes Perfect
Unfortunately, one of the hardest things about CPAP therapy to get used to is that it does require you to wear a mask. And even if the mask is comfortable, it can still be a pretty big adjustment. This is why you might actually need to give it some time before giving it up.
If the discomfort you are feeling is simply resulting from the ‘strangeness’ of using a new device, you might have to endure a ‘break in’ period to really get into the swing of things. One tip that can help with this is to wear your CPAP mask for about 30 minutes during the day as well, just to get used to how it feels and to grow accustomed to having it on.
This can help you to overcome your frustrations with the therapy and get you started off on the right foot.
#3… If You Have Trouble, Get Help!
Experts say that the initial stages of treatment are essential for CPAP therapy because they can set a tone for the rest of your experience. So if you are having a problem, reach out to someone who can help. Your doctor, a sleep specialist, or a CPAP technician could all be likely candidates.
Try to articulate the problems you are having with the machine, and utilize their advice to make the experience better. The sooner you get into a positive frame-of-mind and get past the problems, the sooner you can start getting back to sleep and experiencing the benefits of the therapy.
Another tip that we’ve heard specialists use is to go to bed an hour later than usual when first starting to use CPAP. This can help you to fall asleep faster, because it will usually result in you being more tired when your head finally hits the pillow. Sometimes, this can help you to avoid the ‘tossing and turning’ phase of trying to get to sleep, which can be even more distracting when you are wearing a CPAP mask!
#4… What About Discomfort Caused by Forced Air?
If you find that your required air pressure is just ‘too much’ to start with, you could possibly see about getting a machine with a ‘ramp’ feature. ‘Ramp’ is a setting that lets you start out at a lower air pressure, but then gradually increases it over time to your prescribed setting.
Often, the ramp feature doesn’t hit maximum air pressure until you are already asleep. If forced air is making you feel uncomfortable, this can actually do a lot to help negate the problem.
#5… What If your Nose Gets Stuffy?
Unfortunately, a dry, stuffy nose is a fairly common side-effect of CPAP therapy. It often results from having a leaky mask, though it can also happen because your nose is just drying out faster because of the increased air pressure.
If you experience this problem, you might want to check your mask for leaks. If you don’t find any, you can try a machine with a heated humidifier. These devices can also be purchased separately and attached to your primary machine, which is pretty awesome. You can then adjust the levels of humidification to solve your dry-nose-woes once and for all!
Last Tip: Don’t Give Up!
CPAP can be very frustrating, but it is important not to give up! You need this treatment to work. Without it, you will be at an increased risk for complications arising from your sleep apnea. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes are only a few of the conditions that you can be at an increased risk for if you don’t curb this problem now!
If you feel that you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, then you should most definitely talk to your doctor about the possibility of using CPAP to treat it. He/she will know whether or not you may make a good candidate for it, and getting started is usually a pretty painless process. It really does work, and despite its downsides, it is one of the best tools at our disposal in the fight against obstructive sleep apnea and the debilitating long-term effects that the disorder can have on your life.
The main thing to remember is that you need to take action. Don’t let months or years go by as you suffer from debilitating sleep apnea. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor and start this process sooner rather than later. When you start sleeping restfully again, you will be so glad that you got the problem sorted out!