The Basics About CPAP

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) is one of the leading treatments for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

If you’ve just been diagnosed with OSA, here’s important information about CPAP therapy.

The treatment involves a device to supply a constant stream of air through a mask worn while you sleep. This steady stream of air helps to prevent the collapse of your upper airways -- which prevents the breathing interruptions which characterizes OSA.

This sleep disorder increases the risk of serious health problems and therefore continued adherence to the CPAP treatment plan is key.

Here’s how the system work:

CPAP Devices and Masks

The CPAP air pressure required will differ from person to person, based on the sleep test. Your doctor will advise on the device most suited to help with your sleep disorder -- and prescribe the air pressure that’s best for you.

Automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machines are a more recent addition to the market and automatically adjust the pressure settings as you sleep. These devices measure resistance levels in your breathing and adjust the pressure accordingly.

The mask is also an important piece of equipment. When you start CPAP therapy, there will often be a period of adjustment. It’s important to have a correctly fitting mask, comfortable, not too loose and not too tight. It is crucial to work with your doctor to find the right style mask for you.

The main options are:

Full face mask – Often triangular in shape, these masks are designed to fit over both the nose and the mouth. This mask style is often recommended to those who primarily breathe through their mouths when asleep or who suffer from nasal congestion.

Nasal mask – This mask is less invasive, using a gel or silicone cushion which covers just the nose. A smaller profile nasal mask can also be tried which does not tend to have a t-bar attachment up to the strapping across the forehead.

Nasal pillow mask – These masks provide the most minimal contact of the three options. They do not cover the entire nose, a small cushion fits directly over the nostrils instead. A lighter option, this allows a clearer line of vision and works well when reading or watching the television.

Adapting to Your Mask

The treatment needs to be adhered to every night to eliminate the symptoms of OSA -- and restore you to good nights of uninterrupted sleep. It can take time to adjust to wearing a mask, but it is important to persevere with the treatment course.

Work with your doctor to find the right mask and do not be afraid to ask questions. If you can trial your mask for a week or so that would be ideal. If your mask is too tight or too loose, you should not just resign yourself to this. Talk to your doctor and find a better solution.

OSA symptoms can reduce significantly after continuous use of CPAP, in turn reducing your risk from further serious health complications. Very often, patients start with a full-face mask, then transition to a nasal mask when symptoms get under control.


A humidifier -- attached to your CPAP device -- helps prevent dry mouth in the morning, reduces irritation in the airways and helps protect against upper respiratory issues.

Cleaning and Replacing Parts

Maintaining the equipment is crucial in optimizing the effectiveness of the treatment. Cleaning masks and tubing helps prevent a buildup of bacteria and mold which could otherwise be inhaled.

The manufacturer guidelines should also be adhered to with regard to the timeline in replacing parts, as this is also key to successful treatment.

By regularly replacing tubes, straps, cushions and masks, you not only improve hygiene but comfort level, too. If you are comfortable, you are more likely to adhere to your important treatment course.

It’s Best For Your Good Health

OSA has been linked with chronic diseases -- heart disease, diabetes, even dementia. It’s because your body requires a good supply of oxygen while you sleep, to feed all the organs including the brain.

Oxygen is restorative; sleep is restorative.

Not only can CPAP give you a good night’s sleep, it can stop the snoring! Your partner will appreciate the difference, and so will you. No more dragging on low energy through the day, no more drowsy driving, far less risk of traffic accidents.

You may need to draw on your perseverance in adapting to CPAP, yet the results can help greatly improve -- and lengthen -- your life.