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CPAP

As a specialist helping patients manage their sleep apnea, Dr. Shawn Allen understands the challenges his patients in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas face daily in their pursuit of a good night’s sleep. He has helped many patients achieve healthier, more restful sleep using continuous positive airway pressure, (CPAP) therapy and through procedures that improve CPAP tolerance when necessary. CPAP and auto-titrating PAP (APAP) continue to represent the standard of care in treating obstructive sleep apnea when tolerated well.

Woman sleeping with CPAP machine

What is CPAP?

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure, or APAP in the case of an automatic pressure adjusting machine) is the standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that involves a machine connected to a nose or face mask used during sleep. CPAP helps regulate sleep-disordered breathing by delivering a steady stream of pressurized air to stent open the collapsing portions of the airway while patients sleep. Patients wear a nose or face mask connected to the CPAP machine, and the continuous, gentle air pressure helps regulate breathing and prevent common airway obstructions responsible for sleep apnea. Pressures can be adjusted using titration studies in the case of CPAP machines; however, APAP machines automatically adjust within a set range of pressures and do not generally require titration studies. In nearly all cases, treatment of obstructive sleep apnea begins with CPAP/APAP therapy before considering other interventions such as surgery.

Man sleeping with CPAP machine

What are the Parts of a CPAP Machine?

The details of CPAP machines vary slightly by manufacturer, but there are some components that are universal:

  • Mask: The mask of your CPAP machine may fit over your mouth, your nose, or both (a full face mask). The mask is held in place by a strap that stretches around your head, forming a seal that prevents the air from leaking out. Masks are replaced on a regular basis, but may require a prescription when obtaining through insurance.
  • Tube: The CPAP mask is connected to the CPAP machine by a plastic tube. Heated tubing and humification by the machine may add comfort during use of CPAP therapy. Similar to masks, tubing is replaced on a regular basis to avoid contamination by mold and other particulates.
  • Motor: The biggest part of a CPAP machine is the motor, which passes pressurized air through the tube and into the mask. While some CPAP motors are battery-operated, the majority of them need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. In some models, the CPAP motor also houses an air filter and a heated humidifier. While more expensive, these features are recommended to optimize tolerance of the device. When properly maintained, these motors can last for many years.
Happy man jogging through park

What are the Benefits of CPAP Therapy?

For individuals with obstructive sleep apnea using a CPAP machine can offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduce or eliminate snoring, gasping, and choking during sleep
  • Better quality of sleep with more time spent in deep sleep
  • Decreased daytime sleepiness
  • Feeling more alert and focused during the day
    (increased productivity)
  • Decreased morning headaches
  • A more stable mood
  • Steady blood oxygen levels

CPAP therapy can also help reduce the threat of serious health conditions, such as:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Sudden death during sleep

Cleaning Your CPAP Machine

To fully benefit from CPAP therapy, it is important to keep your CPAP clean. A clean CPAP machine is also less likely to expose you to bacteria and mold. Dr. Allen recommends cleaning your CPAP machine daily (particularly the mask, tubing, and water container on the motor if humidified), or at the very least, once per week for a deep clean of the entire system. Please refer to the cleaning instructions provided by your CPAP manufacturer for complete details and recommendations, as they may change or include specifics for your machine.

General guidelines for cleaning your CPAP:

  • Take the machine apart
    • Unplug your CPAP machine
    • Separate the mask and strap from the tube
    • Remove the tube from the CPAP
    • Remove the water chamber from the CPAP
  • Soak the parts of your CPAP
    • Once the machine is disassembled, you can soak the components in warm water with mild detergent or cleaning solution per manufacturer recommendations. Make sure all parts are fully submerged, and let them soak for at least 30 minutes before you rinse them.
  • Clean the outside of your CPAP
    • Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the surfaces of your CPAP
  • If your CPAP has a humidifier, clean once a week using mild soap and hot water

Once all parts and surfaces of your CPAP are clean and dry, put the machine back together.

There are various cleaning devices available for simplifying the process of cleaning and disinfecting CPAP equipment. These may also be an option to reduce time and effort spent cleaning the components, but should be confirmed as compatible with your device and FDA approved before using them.

Frequently Asked Questions About CPAP Treatment

Will I be able to sleep with a CPAP machine?

Many people are familiar with older models of CPAP/APAP therapy machines, which were bulky, noisy, and uncomfortable to wear. Now, however, advances in CPAP device technology have led to machines that are smaller and much quieter. New CPAP machines are also designed to be much more comfortable, with a number of options for mouth and nasal masks. If you have a CPAP and find that it makes sleeping uncomfortable or difficult, contact Dr. Allen. Evaluation in the clinic often uncovers reasons for CPAP intolerance and highlights treatment options that avoid the risk of unsuccessful treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

Are there any side effects of CPAP therapy?

Some CPAP users encounter dry mouth, nasal congestion or a runny nose, and/or nosebleeds. If you experience any of these issues, contact Dr. Allen so that he can suggest ways to alleviate them.
Some changes he may suggest include:

  • Adding a heated humidifier to your CPAP machine
  • Using a different mask
  • Cleaning your CPAP
  • Adjusting the settings on your CPAP
  • Switching to an APAP machine

If using your CPAP machine causes you to experience bloating or stomach discomfort, stop using it and call Dr. Allen.

Is it necessary to treat my sleep apnea?

Many of Dr. Allen’s patients are very familiar with the short-term effects of sleep apnea, like snoring, feeling groggy during the day, and morning headaches. These side effects are more than annoying: they can lead to a frustrated bed partner, poor workplace performance, moodiness, and serious health implications as listed above. While you may be able to work through some of the short-term effects of sleep apnea, the long-term impact on your health should be taken seriously and avoided by treating OSA. A lack of good sleep can weaken your immune system, cause weight gain that is difficult to control with diet and exercise, and potentially lead to life-threatening issues like:

  • Diabetes complications
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Sudden death during sleep

To put it simply, if you have sleep apnea and suffer from poor sleep quality, the significant impact on your health should not be ignored.

Will insurance pay for my CPAP machine?

When CPAP therapy is prescribed by a specialist treating OSA like Dr. Allen, the machine, mask, and components are covered either partially or fully by insurance. Regular checkups with documentation of CPAP compliance are required for ongoing coverage and refills on supplies such as masks and tubing, and allow for discussion of any problems with using your equipment as well.

Shawn Allen, ENT

Contact Dr. Allen

If you struggle with drowsiness, headaches, irritability, a lack of focus and other effects of obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Allen can help. To learn more about CPAP therapy and other treatments, please contact us to schedule a consultation at his office serving residents of Houston, the Woodlands, and surrounding communities.

1 American Academy of Sleep Medicine. CPAP. Available: https://sleepeducation.org/patients/cpap/. Accessed October 5, 2022.

2 Cleveland Clinic. CPAP Machine. Available: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22043-cpap-machine. Accessed October 5, 2022.

3 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. CPAP. Available: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/cpap. Accessed October 5, 2022.

4 American Sleep Association. Risks of Sleep Apnea. https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep-apnea/risks/ Accessed October 5, 2022.

Schedule a Consultation

Call: (713) 791-0700 or Request a Consultation Online

Dr. Shawn Allen has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.

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