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How does a CPAP machine work?

Sleep apnea occurs in as many as 18 million Americans. CPAP machines are effective in treating patients with difficulty breathing while asleep; however, one study shows that as many as half of all people prescribed the machine stop using them after one to three weeks. CPAP machines are prescribed to patients for the purpose of alleviating the dangerous affliction, allowing them to take in enough oxygen and sleep peacefully through the night.

  • Motor – The CPAP motor is a small compressor. It draws in air and gently delivers the perfect amount of air pressure needed to clear the obstruction. A replaceable filter screens out impurities or any solid matter, and can be found in the air intake part of the machine. CPAP motors are very quiet.
  • Hoses – The hose delivers the pressurized air from the motor to the mask. Most hoses are six feet long, but the diameter can differ in size depending on the machine. Hoses are often heated in order to reduce any water condensation caused by the humidifier.
  • Mask – CPAP masks come in various shapes and sizes to best fit the wearer’s face. There are generally three mask types: nasal masks, full face masks, and nasal pillows. A study shows that 50% of users prefer nasal pillows while 45% favor nasal masks. Only 5% have no preference.

What kinds of problems might I encounter with a CPAP machine?

  • Wrong size – Everyone’s face is different, so you and your doctor will need to find a CPAP mask that suits your needs and fits your face. The full face mask covers the mouth and nose and has straps that stretch across the cheeks and forehead. If you move around in your sleep, this mask is not likely to fall off. The nasal pillow fits just under the nose and straps cover a smaller portion of the face. Masks also come in different sizes and are adjustable. Your doctor can show you how to adjust your mask for the best fit.
  • Discomfort – It might take a little while before you get used to the feeling of the device on your face. Doctors recommend practicing wearing only the CPAP mask for periods of time during the day just to become familiar with the sensation. It is important that you always use your CPAP machine when you sleep, otherwise, you won’t be as likely to get used to it.
  • Dry nose – Some CPAP devices have a heated humidifier. This may relieve some of the dryness. Doctors also recommend using a nasal saline spray before bed. Patients over 60 are more likely to experience dry nose and require the use of heated humidification.

During an average night, a sufferer of sleep apnea can experience as many as 60 apneas per hour. The CPAP machine is designed to avoid this dangerous effect, and to allow patients a full night's sleep.