Skip to content

This information was reviewed and approved by Sheila Tsai, MD (3/1/2017).

Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Most cases of sleep apnea may require CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).

This common and effective treatment provides pressure to the person's airway through a machine that blows air. The airflow from the CPAP machine is delivered through a mask that fits on the face and covers the nostrils, the nose, or the nose and mouth. This air pressure acts as a splint to keep the airway open during sleep, allowing breathing to become more regular. Snoring stops, and restful sleep is restored. Risk factors associated with untreated sleep apnea are greatly reduced when CPAP is used as prescribed by the doctor.


How to Obtain a CPAP Machine

A DME (durable medical equipment) company will provide the CPAP equipment prescribed by your doctor. The insurance company involved may have an agreement with a specific company to provide this service to you. The DME provider should help you pick out a CPAP machine and mask. They should show you how to use and properly care for the equipment. They should also answer any questions you may have concerning the use of the equipment.


Getting Used to a CPAP Machine

It is important to make CPAP a part of your everyday life, as this treatment only works if it is used. It should be used at night for sleep, as well as for planned naps. The treatment only works if it is used. CPAP should be the last thing that is put on at night and the first thing that is taken off in the morning.

Getting used to the CPAP machine is different for each person. Some people may put the CPAP mask on the first night and wear it all night with great results. Others may struggle from the start. Most people fall in between these two extremes.

CPAP users normally need a period of adjustment. Remember, CPAP is something that can improve your quality of sleep and life. It does require cooperation on the user's part. It is important not to get discouraged. It can take several months for some people to get used to using CPAP all night long. Contact your DME provider concerning problems with equipment or comfort. Contact your doctor for medical problems. If you have problems, make sure to ask for help so you can get used to using your CPAP.

Side effects of CPAP use include headaches, dry or stuffy nose, sore eyes or bloating of the stomach. You can work with your health care provider to alleviate these problems. For example, you may be able to get a better-fitting mask or use a nasal spray to relieve a dry nose. If you have problems using CPAP, make sure to ask for help. Contact your DME provider concerning problems with equipment or comfort. Contact your doctor for medical problems.

About Auto-CPAP

Your doctor may order an auto-titrating CPAP, otherwise known as APAP or autoPAP. Rather than a fixed pressure with CPAP, a pressure range is provided with the autoPAP. The machine’s delivered pressure will adjust during sleep depending on the breathing pattern it senses. Your doctor may initially start with a large pressure range and narrow this range depending on the information obtained from the machine and your tolerance to the machine.



Most peoplewith sleep apnea can be successfully treated with CPAP. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe BIPAP instead of CPAP for obstructive sleep apnea. BIPAP, (pronounced "BY-PAP") is short for bi-level positive airway pressure. The function of the BIPAP machine is the same as CPAP; however, it provides two different levels of pressure. There is a higher pressure provided when you are breathing in. A lower pressure is provided when you are breathing out. This mimics normal breathing and can be more comfortable for some people.


Portability of the PAP Machine

The PAP machine is portable. It will work with electricity, (either 110 or 220 current) with an adapter for a car cigarette lighter or with a 12-volt deep cycle marine battery. When flying, take CPAP as carry-on luggage only. Travel bags are available through the DME provider. CPAP can go anywhere.

Your doctor may prescribe oxygen to be used with the CPAP equipment. The oxygen is added to the system with a special adaptor. If traveling away from home, contact your DME provider. The DME provider can arrange for oxygen while you travel.


Watch more Videos on CPAP

For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.