What is CPAP?
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a system that uses air pressure to help people with certain conditions such as sleep apnea, breathe at night.
CPAP is used to treat other conditions as well, such as with infants whose lungs have failed to develop, but the focus of this article will be in using CPAP for sleep apnea.
I have written a very detailed guide to sleep apnea here but essentially sleep apnea is a condition that stops people breathing properly at night.
With CPAP, a continuous flow of air is pushed into the back of a person’s throat via a mask.
This air pressure helps to keep the airway open (at the back of the throat) which helps the person to breath properly.
The system has three elements to it
- A mask. There are several different types of masks but they tend to be worn around the nose or the nose and the mouth.
- A tube. That connects the mask to the ventilator.
- A ventilator. This is a small machine (about the size of a lunchbox) that has a pump in it that creates a flow of air.
Some of the numbers around sleep apnea and CPAP make for some very sad reading.
Of course, exact numbers are almost impossible to come by but approximately 18 million Americans have sleep apnea but it might be as high as 30 million Americans who are suffering from it.
Approximately only 1 in 4 people with the condition seek medical treatment for it.
In it’s severest form, sleep apnea is a killer with some experts believing that “Untreated severe apnea can take 10 to 15 years off someone’s life”.
In its milder forms, sleep apnea could still cause many unpleasant complications such as; developing high blood pressure, an increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack and developing type 2 diabetes.
Added to the tragedy of those numbers, is the fact that even when people do seek treatment for sleep apnea and are prescribed CPAP and provided with all the equipment, a study in 2008 showed that 46%- 83% of people with a diagnosis of sleep apnea failed to use their CPAP equipment!
So, why is CPAP so unpopular?
Whilst there are a number of possible reasons for this, there is a lack of any real research into why so few people use their CPAP machines consistently.
Our bedrooms should be the most comfortable and relaxing room in the house and no matter how small or unobstrusive the CPAP equipment is, it is still highly intrusive and effects people on many levels.
- CPAP equipment interferes with intimacy.
- People complain that wearing a mask (despite the many designs that are available) makes them feel claustrophic.
2. The different types of masks can cause irritation or pain.
3. The masks can leak which can leave some people struggling to breath and other people with a jet of air irritating them.
4. The straps or headgear that hold the mask in position can cause irritation or pain or they can leave marks on people’s faces.
5. The hose or tube that connects the mask to the ventilator in many cases restricts people’s ability to sleep in their favourite position (on their side or on their stomachs.)
6. The hose can also restrict people’s ability to move in the night.
7. The ventilator, no matter how quiet, will make some sort of noise, which disturbs lots of users.
8. Some people are embarrassed about their need to use the equipment.
9. A user’s “bed partner” might be disturbed by the equipment or just not want their loved one wearing it.
10. CPAP equipment interferes massively with “intimacy”- touching, kissing, cuddling and sex.
There we go, 10 huge obstacles to using CPAP!
All of the different reasons described above mean that successfully using CPAP equipment takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Trying to change a habit or behaviour is hard for anyone because it takes dedication and consistency and the ability to overcome challenges.
I think that trying to do this with a behaviour when you are in bed at night, is far more difficult because we have less dedication and resolve when we are in bed.
All we want to do is sleep!
I have looked at the reviews that people who have bought a wide range of CPAP masks have written and the biggest criticisms of these masks are; that people find them uncomfortable, that they leak air, they cause irritation and/ or pain or that the masks do not stay in place overnight.
Benefits of CPAP
The benefits of using CPAP can be found in reducing or eradicating the many complications and symptoms of having sleep apnea.
There are 7 main complications/ risks and they are;
- High blood pressure
- Having a heart attack or a stroke
- An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Liver problems
- Car accidents
- Sleep deprived bed partner
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
- Inability to concentrate
- Irritability or short- temperedness
You can find out more about these complications by clicking here (link to Sleep Apnea article, complications section.)
Side Effects of CPAP
There is a huge list of side effects to using CPAP, which should not come as a huge surprise given that some of the side effects are included in my “10 reasons that CPAP is so unpopular” which can be found earlier in the article.
However, there are lots more. I am going to split these into three groups;
- General Side Effects
- Mask Side Effects
- Nasal Side Effects
- Pressure or airflow side effects.
General Side Effects
- People are embarrassed to wear the equipment
- Interferes with intimacy
- Restriction of sleep position
- Restriction of field of vision- watching TV, reading books, wearing glasses.
- Difficult to travel with
- Delayed sleep onset
Mask Side Effects
- Irritation or marks left on skin.
- Jaw pain relating to wearing a chin strap
- hose entanglement
- Runny nose
- nose bleeds
- Dry nostrils
Soreness around the nose or the mouth
soreness around nose or mouth
Congestion, Runny Nose, Sneezing, Sinusitis, and Nosebleeds
delayed sleep onset
restriction of sleep position
Interfers with reading and TV watching