Can You Buy a CPAP Machine Without a Sleep Study?

CPAP is a leading treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. 

However, CPAP is classified as a class II medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, you require a prescription from your physician to buy a CPAP device. 

In order to be prescribed CPAP, you will need a sleep study to determine whether you have sleep apnea and the severity of the disorder.

Sleep Study and Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Therefore, if you suspect you are experiencing this sleep disorder, diagnosis is key. Prime symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • frequent awakenings at night, sometimes gasping for air
  • heavy snoring
  • daytime fatigue
  • morning headaches
  • poor concentration
  • irritability

If you are experiencing such symptoms, you should consult with your physician. If they suspect sleep apnea, they will recommend a sleep study. This could be an at home sleep test or one undertaken during an overnight stay at a sleep clinic.

Home sleep tests are simple to do and convenient. A home sleep test measures several parameters including snoring, breathing patterns, body position, oximetry and either respiratory effort or peripheral arterial tone. This type of testing is suitable for patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and will also indicate the severity of the disorder.  You simply send the results to your physician for analysis.

An overnight sleep study at a sleep clinic involves a polysomnogram. Your sleep will be monitored by clinicians and is best for patients that experience neurological symptoms such as parasomnias, narcolepsy and/or REM Sleep Behavior disorder.  For sleep apnea, a home sleep test is preferred as patients sleep more soundly in their own bed compared to a sleep clinic. 

A sleep physician can recommend more precise pressure settings from a home sleep test by recommending an Auto CPAP device.. They can then issue a prescription or send the details on to your own primary care physician who will issue the required prescription.

Prescribing CPAP

You need a prescription for CPAP, which is based on the data from a sleep study. A polysomnogram from either a home sleep test or an overnight sleep study allows a physician to prescribe an Auto CPAP with a pressure range to treat the severity of your disorder and reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea symptoms. The settings of the Auto CPAP iare based on improvement of your apnea/hypopnea (AHI) index and the lowest oxygen saturation (saO2) percentage as garnered from the study.

Ahome test identifies the severity of the disordered breathing but requires   an automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) device, that allows for a wide range of pressures or to be set as a single pressure. You may need a follow-up study if it were felt a bi-level or a non-invasive ventilator would be more suitable in treating the severity of your sleep apnea.

A prescription for CPAP will include:

  • physician’s name and contact details
  • patient's name
  • diagnosis
  • description of machine and supplies required
  • duration
  • recommended replacement schedule for parts such as masks
  • whether a humidifier is included in the prescription
  • pressure setting(s)

A CPAP machine cannot be properly set without the pressure setting derived from a sleep study. This is a key part of the prescription. If the pressure is not correctly set on the machine it could be detrimental to your health. A prescription will also be needed before insurers cover the necessary payments for the CPAP equipment.

How Long Does a Prescription Last?

CPAP machines can be prescribed for life. However, insurance will often cover replacing a CPAP device every five years or so. You will need a new prescription each time you change your device. 

Sometimes a physician may provide a prescription for a certain number of replacements, after which the prescription will then need to be renewed.

If a prescription expires, you will most likely need to undertake a new sleep study. This study is needed to ascertain any change required in the pressure settings for the device before a new prescription can be issued.

CPAP parts such as filters, mask cushions and tubing need to be replaced on a regular basis. This may be every three months, but you should refer to the manufacturer’s recommendation. It is possible that an insurer may require a new prescription to cover the replacement of these parts each year.

Can You Buy CPAP Without a Prescription?

You can find places online to buy CPAP devices and equipment without having to provide a prescription. However, as CPAP is classified as a class II medical device, doing so is illegal.

A prescription for CPAP from your physician or a sleep specialist physician ensures you receive the right CPAP device and parts for you. 

It will include the all-important pressure setting based on your sleep study to prevent the collapse of your airways as you sleep. This is why you should have a sleep study before you buy a CPAP machine. Without the study you cannot get the prescription required to purchase this class II medical device.