CPAP Therapy Explained

Summary: How have you been sleeping? Do you have any problems? Are family members kept awake by your snoring? Do you wake up with a headache, or a dry mouth? Or do you wake up frequently through the night, gasping and choking, with your brain confused about whether it should be breathing or sleeping?

Breathing — it’s something we have every right to take for granted and it’s distressing when it doesn’t work the way we expect it to. Fortunately there is CPAP, a popular, widely used and readily available, non-surgical therapy that can help people breathe more easily on their own.

How Does CPAP Therapy Work?

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is a type of ventilation therapy that helps people who can still breathe on their own, but who need a bit of assistance in keeping their airways open through the whole of the in/out breathing cycle. The machine does not do the work — the patient must be able to initiate all breaths. Basically, what the machine does is increase the air pressure in the throat, making sure that your airway does not collapse after the inhalation.

The Breathing Cycle
The breathing cycle works like this: Take a breath. Feel the air travelling through your nose, along the windpipe and into the lungs. Your windpipe’s pathway narrows a bit at the back of the throat, but during the day our muscles are awake to keep the pathway wide open. When we sleep, we relax those muscles and the opening narrows. Snoring is the sound of the throat vibrating as we push the breath through the narrow opening. But sometimes, in sleep, we relax the muscles too much and the pathway closes more than it should and air doesn’t get to our lungs. When this happens, our brain goes to red alert, we wake, start breathing again and then go back to sleep.

But the sleep cycle is interrupted, sometimes over and over again, which has many negative effects on health and lifestyle, not just for the patient but also for everyone in the family.

Help Is Just a Breath Away
So, to get a good night’s sleep, the patient needs a machine with a mask, straps, tube and motor. The mask fits over the mouth and nose, or sometimes just the nose, with prongs that fit in the nostrils. There are straps to keep the mask in place on the face, and a tube that connects the mask to the motor. The motor blows air through the tube.

You can see that it might take some time to adapt to wearing the machine while you sleep, and one of the biggest problems in the effectiveness of the therapy is sleepers who take it off at night. However, you should adapt to the machine within a few days. If not, see the doctor again about anything that is interfering with your motivation to keep using the machine, such as side effects like increased dreaming, or a runny nose. Discontinue if you experience nosebleeds or stomach discomfort and bloating, and return to your CPAP therapist for an adjustment or revised solution.

End result - everyone sleeps better.

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