Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP)

Illustration shohwing a mask over the nose gently directing air into the throat to keep the airway open.

Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) uses gentle air pressure to hold the airway open. CPAP is often the most effective treatment for sleep apnea and severe snoring. It works very well for many people. But keep in mind that it can take several adjustments before the setup is right for you.

How CPAP works

The CPAP machine  is a small portable pump that sits beside the bed. The pump sends air through a hose, which is held over your nose alone, or nose and mouth by a mask. Mild air pressure is gently pushed through your airway. The air pressure nudges sagging tissues aside. This widens the airway so you can breathe better. CPAP may be combined with other kinds of therapy for sleep apnea.

Types of air pressure treatments

There are different types of CPAP. Your doctor or CPAP technician will help you decide which type is best for you:

  • Basic CPAP keeps the pressure constant all night long.

  • A bilevel device (BiPAP) provides more pressure when you breathe in and less when you breathe out. A BiPAP machine also may be set to provide automatic breaths to maintain breathing if you stop breathing while sleeping.

  • An autoCPAP device automatically adjusts pressure throughout the night and in response to changes such as body position, sleep stage, and snoring.