You’ve just been diagnosed with sleep apnea. There are so many options for treatment: APAP vs. CPAP vs. BiPAP, and even others.
Before discussing which device may be right for you, let’s review what causes obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.
Sleep apnea occurs when your soft palate (or the roof of your mouth), or other soft tissues near your airway, block your airway while you’re sleeping. Your bed partner may notice when you stop breathing while you sleep, followed by a loud snore or snort.
OSA poses a great risk to your health and longevity. When you stop breathing, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. Without oxygen, your heart needs to work harder. This can cause severe cardiac and circulatory issues, from high blood pressure to congestive heart failure, and many problems in between.
OSA also causes memory and cognitive problems. Mood issues, such as depression can occur, which can affect your relationships with family, friends, and performance at work. Fatigue and attention problems can cause serious motor vehicle accidents.
Treat your OSA as you would any other serious condition. Continued use of your positive airway pressure device is important to your health.
What is a Positive Airway Pressure Device?
Before you can begin treatment with a positive airway pressure device, your doctor will order a sleep study, or polysomnography. You’ll stay overnight in a clinic and sleep. The study measures many different things, like your oxygen level, the number of times you stop breathing (apneic events), and your brain waves.
While you’re sleeping, the doctor or technician will also adjust, or titrate, a positive airway pressure device for you. Every person is different. Some people only need a small amount of pressure to prevent apneic events, while others need a pressure that is quite high.
Positive airway pressure devices prevent OSA by keeping your airways open with air pressure. A mask delivers the air through tubing from a machine you keep near your bed. It’s the most common and effective treatment for OSA.
CPAP devices, or continuous positive airway pressure devices, are the first line treatment for OSA. Like all positive airway pressure devices, air pressure is used to keep your airways open.
CPAP accomplishes this by delivering a constant air pressure that doesn’t vary with your inhale or exhale. Many people embrace the CPAP with little to no issues. Others have a difficult time exhaling while air is blowing into their mouth.
Many modern CPAP devices have a ramp setting, which builds the air pressure slowly as you fall asleep. This helps if you feel like you have a hard time exhaling while using your machine.
Automatic Positive Airway Pressure devices, or APAP devices, work is the same way CPAPs do: air pressure is used to keep your airways open. This prevents apneic events.
APAPs have two settings, low range and high range. The machine has a computer which senses your pressure needs and automatically adjusts itself throughout the night. Your pressure needs can change when:
APAP vs. CPAP
APAP and CPAP devices have many similar benefits, including:
Both have similar drawbacks, including:
The drawbacks are usually easily treated by your sleep medicine specialist. The key is establishing and maintaining open and honest communication between you and your practitioner.
While APAP and CPAP devices both use positive airway pressure to keep airways open during sleep, each has its benefits and drawbacks.
Our Final Thoughts
OSA can cause many significant issues, but is easily treated with a positive airway pressure device. To use a device, you’ll need to see a sleep specialist and have a polysomnography.
The most common device is a CPAP. It is the least expensive and has similar benefits to more expensive machines, like an APAP. It’s usually approved by insurance companies without too much trouble.
APAPs may be paid for by insurance after you’ve failed a CPAP trial. Since APAPs use variable air pressure to avoid apneic events, depending on your needs throughout the night. This results in less side effects and a more comfortable experience for you.
Whether you are using a CPAP or APAP, it’s important to establish and maintain good communication between you and your sleep specialist. He or she can help resolve issues, which can help you use your device more consistently, improving your overall health.