Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy
(CPAP) uses a machine to help a person who has obstructive
sleep apnea (OSA) breathe more easily during sleep. A
CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn't
collapse when you breathe in. When you use CPAP, your bed partner may sleep
You use CPAP at home every night while you sleep. The
CPAP machine will have one of the following:
It may take time for you to become
comfortable with using CPAP. If you can't get used to it, talk to your doctor.
You might be able to try another type of mask or make other adjustments.
CPAP is the most effective
nonsurgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is the first treatment
choice for adults and the most widely used.
CPAP is effective for
treating sleep apnea:
Problems that may occur with CPAP
Nosebleeds are a rare complication of
You can expect mild discomfort in the
morning when you first start using CPAP. Talk with your doctor if you don't
feel comfortable after a few days.
You may be able to limit or
stop some of the side effects:
When you are using CPAP, you need
to see your doctor or sleep specialist regularly. You may also need more
sleep studies to adjust the CPAP machine and check
whether the treatment is working.
For best results, keep the machine clean. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning the equipment.
The machines are expensive. You
may be able to rent a CPAP machine before you buy it. In some cases, you may be
able to rent-to-own a CPAP machine.
BiPAP and APAP machines are usually more expensive than CPAP machines.
The most common problem with
CPAP is that people don't use the machine every night. Or they take off the
mask during the night because it becomes uncomfortable. Even one night of not
using the machine can make you sleepy the next day. If you feel like you want to stop using CPAP for any reason, talk to your doctor. There may be other treatment options for you.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved
some brands of portable CPAP machines. You may be able to
take a smaller CPAP machine on vacations or other types of
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
Lam B, et al. (2007). Randomised study of three non-surgical treatments in mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnoea. Thorax, 62(4): 354–359.
Giles TL, et al. (2006). Continuous positive airways pressure for obstructive sleep apnoea in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
Hensley M, Ray C (2009). Sleep apnoea, search date May 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Weaver TE, et al. (2012). Continuous positive airway pressure treatment of sleepy patients with milder obstructive sleep apnea: Results of the CPAP Apnea Trial North American Program (CATNAP) randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 186(7): 677–683.
Bouloukaki I, et al. (2014). Intensive versus standard follow-up to improve continuous positive airway pressure compliance. European Respiratory Journal, 44(5): 1262–1274. DOI: 10.1183/09031936.00021314. Accessed February 5, 2015.
Milleron O, et al. (2004). Benefits of obstructive sleep apnoea treatment in coronary artery disease: A long-term follow-up study. European Heart Journal, 25(9): 728–734.
Barbe F, et al. (2010). Long-term effect of continuous positive airway pressure in hypertensive patients with sleep apnea. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 181(7): 718–726.
Marin JM, et al. (2012). Association between treated and untreated obstructive sleep apnea and risk of hypertension. JAMA, 307(20): 2169–2176.
Khayat RN, et al. (2008). Cardiac effects of continuous and bilevel positive airway pressure for patients with heart failure and obstructive sleep apnea. Chest, 134(6): 1162–1168.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Current as ofMay 23, 2016
Current as of:
May 23, 2016
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.