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CPAP (General) FAQs

Read CPAP Australia’s FAQ for answers to commonly asked questions regarding CPAP and sleep apnea. What is it, who needs it, and what should you expect.

What is CPAP?

CPAP stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure” and is most commonly used during sleep as a safe and effective treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). CPAP use can also help quieten or eliminate snoring.

What is sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (also known as OSA or sleep apnoea) is a sleep disorder. Patients suffering from sleep apnea experience episodes where they stop breathing during sleep due to a partial or complete blockage of the airway. This loss of air flow to the lungs can last for 10 seconds or longer. A narrow throat or obstructed airway is likely to vibrate during sleep, and may cause snoring. These episodes of obstruction can happen many times a night, triggering the body to wake up, sometimes unknowingly to the person, for a brief period and restart the breathing process. When left untreated, the constant interruptions to breathing and disturbance of sleep may leave the patient feeling exhausted, sluggish, and moody. Fortunately, therapy options are available, with CPAP being the most effective in successfully treating OSA.

How does CPAP work?

A CPAP system is comprised of three basic components:

1. A machine that acts as an air pump;

2. A mask that covers the nostrils and sometimes the mouth; and

3. A tube that connects the machine to the mask and facilitates the transfer of pressurised air to the patient

The pump blows air pressure, which then travels through the tubing and mask and into the throat. CPAP helps treat sleep apnea by maintaining this flow of pressurised air. The pressure of the air keeps the throat open while you asleep, helping prevent or reduce apneas from occurring.

Who needs CPAP?

CPAP is used by patients who have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP – or an alternative method of treatment – is necessary to ensure that the individual’s airway remains unobstructed and able to transmit oxygen to the lungs. If you’re exhibiting symptoms of OSA, such as loud snoring, sleepiness, lack of energy during the day, or waking up with a very sore throat, you may require the use of CPAP therapy. To find out whether you’re in need of treatment, we recommend consulting with your GP. A person who show symptoms of OSA will typically undergo an overnight sleep study which measures sleep, breathing and oxygen levels, before providing a diagnosis.  

How long does it take for CPAP to work?

Snoring may stop as soon as you begin CPAP treatment at the optimal pressure. Some people notice an immediate improvement in their sleep apnea following commencement of CPAP, while for others it may take slightly longer before they begin to experience the benefits of CPAP.

Who can prescribe CPAP?

Patients require a prescription from a sleep specialist or GP before starting on CPAP treatment.

Who invented CPAP?

Colin Sullivan, an Australian physician and professor, is credited with having invented the CPAP machine in 1980.Dr Sullivan licensed the CPAP patent to Baxter International in 1987 and developed a commercial CPAP device and mask which was released in 1988. In 1989 Dr Peter Farrell acquired Baxter Internationals’ interest in CPAP and founded the company ResCare. In 1995 ResCare became known as ResMed, who are now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of CPAP machines and masks. Read more about the history of Continous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) here

CPAP: What to expect?

Starting on CPAP and wearing a mask during sleep can be daunting. The adjustment process will be different for each individual. It may take some practice and some trialling before you settle on the right mask and air pressure. Remember; the key to achieving a positive outcome is to stick with the treatment as your body will soon get used to it.