The Difference Between CPAP and AutoPAP

Left undiagnosed, the disorder obstructive sleep apnea places you at an increased risk of serious health complications. However, diagnosis will lead to a treatment plan to help eliminate the symptoms (like snoring) and reduce the risk of developing further serious health problems.

Using breathing machines to supply positive airway pressure helps to prevent the collapse of the upper airways as you sleep. This helps prevent the often-frequent pauses in breathing (apneas) which interrupt your sleep.

CPAP therapy is one of the leading treatment methods for obstructive sleep apnea, yet for some people AutoPAP may be the best option. Let’s examine the differences between the two treatments.

What is CPAP?

CPAP is an abbreviation for continuous positive airway pressure therapy. This treatment involves a device that supplies a constant stream of pressurized air while you sleep. It uses a fixed pressure setting, determined by your sleep specialist, and it is this air pressure which helps support the airways and keep them from collapsing.

The air pressure is set at a level for each patient, and works to facilitate a good night’s sleep without the apneas or snoring.

What is AutoPAP?

Also referred to as APAP or automatic titrating positive airway pressure, this treatment involves a device which also supplies a constant stream of pressurized air. However, with AutoPAP the air pressure setting can be adjusted as you sleep.
Instead of having one fixed pressure setting throughout the night, an APAP device can automatically adjust the pressure setting if conditions change during the night.

The AutoPAP device has a low-level pressure setting and a high-level setting, and will fluctuate between the two through the night -- without any intervention by the patient.

The Differences Between the Devices

The basic difference between the two treatment devices is therefore the flexibility -- as AutoPAP adjusts the air pressure setting while the user is asleep.
With CPAP, the constant air stream is geared to eliminate the apneas. This stream of air is set at a pressure level optimized to keep the airways open.
However, for some sleep apnea sufferers, conditions can change during the night and the AutoPAP device uses software to regulate the patient’s breathing by automatically adjusting the air pressure as needed.

CPAP treatment manages sleep apnea by eliminating the snoring and apnea symptoms. By keeping the airways open, you should have undisturbed sleep restored.

Over time, the pressure setting may need to be adjusted to account for factors such as lifestyle changes. While a CPAP device can be adjusted to meet new requirements, an AutoPAP device will automatically adjust the pressure settings to allow for these long-term patterns.

Who Might Use an AutoPAP Device?

An AutoPAP device may be recommended for the person whose breathing is liable to change through the course of a night. Often, this is people who fluctuate between back-sleeping and side-sleeping.

When you sleep on your back, the relaxed airway muscles and the tongue are more likely to be pulled down though the effects of gravity. This tends to worsen sleep apnea.

An AutoPAP device will pick up on the change in breathing and increase the pressure setting to help stop the airways from collapsing further. Once the patient returns to side-sleeping, the device will automatically reduce the pressure setting once more.

For those who suffer with allergies or who often struggle with colds, congestion can be an issue -- as it increases breathing difficulties. An APAP device will note your air intake and automatically adjust the air pressure settings when you are congested, making breathing easier during the night.
This ability to change pressure settings will benefit anyone whose breathing patterns may alter through the night.

Example Devices

If APAP is recommended to treat obstructive sleep apnea, there are a range of devices from the major manufacturers on the market. These include:

  • Philips Respironics DreamStation Auto – a lightweight and user-friendly machine which uses SmartRamp technology. This device does not require any lengthy set-up process and the ramp feature means the device will slowly build to full pressure.
  • ResMed AirSense 10 AutoSet – a compact, lightweight machine with a built-in humidifier to help prevent dry nasal passages. This is a quiet device whose size makes it simple to take with you when travelling in order to maintain your treatment course.
  • ResMed AirMini – Weighing just 0.66 pounds and fitting in the palm of a hand this is a machine designed with travel in mind. It is important to use your breathing device every night to help eliminate sleep apnea symptoms and this device also comes with a 20W power supply to further enhance its travel-friendly status.

When you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your sleep specialist will work with you to recommend the most suitable treatment plan.
Although the more technologically sophisticated AutoPAP machines can be more expensive, the benefits may outweigh the costs for some users -- including those who may find it difficult when exhaling using CPAP.

However, these devices are also known as self-adjusting CPAPs and can also be set to run using a continuous pressure level if required, a handy 2-in-1 device option.

Regardless of which device is most suitable for the patient, the important element is continued compliance with the treatment course.
Sleep apnea can increase the risk of serious health issues including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, finding the right device for you, one which you are comfortable with and will be most likely to continue to use is essential.