How Does a CPAP Machine Know When You Stop Breathing?
If you have been recently diagnosed with sleep apnea and are required to undertake CPAP therapy as your treatment, there are probably a lot of unanswered questions. Taking the leap to using a CPAP machine can be quite daunting, especially if you are unsure of how the sleep apnea device actually works.
This article will guide you through how a CPAP machine operates, how breathing patterns can be affected and the mechanisms behind air pressure that these devices use.
What is a CPAP machine?
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are designed to treat sleep apnea patients by holding their collapsing airways open with positive air pressure. Sleep apnea treatment with CPAP machines can be used for both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CA), depending on the severity and functions an individual maintains within their disorder.
A CPAP machine is a device that has three main components, a CPAP mask that fits over the face, a CPAP machine that monitors and simulates regular breathing patterns and a hose or tube that connects the face mask and machine together.
A CPAP machine can only be bought with a prescription from a sleep specialist or doctor, and you must be diagnosed with sleep apnea to receive a prescription.
How do CPAP machines work?
Since there are several different types of CPAP machines available for the treatment of sleep apnea, there are a variety of ways they operate.
A fixed-pressure CPAP machine can provide positive airway pressure through fixed pressurised air, while an APAP machine or automatic positive airway pressure machine can automatically adjust pressure to keep the airway open. There are also BPAP or BiPAP machines that are a form of non-invasive ventilation. They are generally prescribed for more complicated cases of sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing. These devices have bi-level operating system, meaning that there is a high air pressure setting and a low air pressure setting that alters when inhaling and exhaling.
A CPAP machine is connected to a CPAP mask that fits over the face, usually the nose and mouth and provides direct pressurized air straight into the airway. CPAP masks are connected to your CPAP machine through a tube and have additional components such as an air filter to ensure clean air is always entering the body. There are different types of CPAP masks, including a full face mask, nasal mask and nasal pillow mask fit.
The machine that will work best for you depends on the severity of your sleep apnea or the personalised treatment you require. Your CPAP therapy will also depend on whether you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or central sleep apnea (CSA).
For more on how CPAP machines work, take a look at this informational video that demonstrates the different device operations:
Why does a CPAP Machine change air pressure?
Because the main goal of using a CPAP machine is to regulate breathing patterns to prevent lapses, a CPAP machine works to change air pressure so your body can breathe easily.
Your CPAP motor generates a stream of air that travels through the tube and filters through your CPAP mask, pushing past any blockages and ensuring your airway stays open. This guarantees your lungs receive the right amount of oxygen levels to keep breathing so you can have a restful sleep.
Your CPAP machine may be able to change air pressure settings based on how you are breathing throughout the night. This means that you have an APAP machine or automatic CPAP machine that can alter air pressure levels when your body needs it. Alternatively, machine settings on a regular CPAP machine have only one fixed setting that stays the same throughout use.
How does a CPAP machine know when your air pressure should be altered?
A CPAP machine works by both monitoring your breathing and providing air pressure. By measuring resistance, oxygen levels and breathing patterns, this device can detect any changes in sleep quality that may occur throughout the night.
To resolve a collapse of the airway, air leaks from a CPAP mask or other obstacles, your CPAP machine can test lower pressures and adjust as needed.
APAP machines, on the other hand, can measure a person's breathing patterns by monitoring three things:
- 30 breaths of stable breathing (roughly 3 minutes)
- 5 consecutive snore breaths
- 3 obstructive apneas or hypopneas within 2 minutes
If any of these things occur, an APAP machine can gradually increase your airflow until it reaches your required level.
What is the right CPAP machine for me?
While there are some stark differences between an APAP, BiPAP and CPAP machine, it comes down to what works best for the individual. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is considered to be the most effective way to treat obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and ensure a good night's sleep.
Automatic machines are typically much more expensive to purchase than fixed-pressure CPAP machines as their technology far exceeds that of a fixed-pressure machine. However, an APAP machine may feel more comfortable as it adjusts the pressure for you throughout the night. Long term, it is advanced enough to adjust with your lifestyle and may work better to treat your sleep apnea.
The major benefits and effectiveness of all machines are equally effective in the treatment and overall results. Having a machine that accounts for lower pressure and higher pressure therapy settings and upgraded features is best for those wanting a full sleep therapy experience.
For those who have obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP treatment is the best option for reducing sleep apnea symptoms. However, if these devices do not work out for your individual circumstances, alternative treatments such as sleep medicine or making lifestyle changes such as losing weight may curb the effects of sleep apnea.
Signs your CPAP machine or therapy is not working
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy is typically a successful way to treat sleep apnea. However, not every individual will respond the same to CPAP therapy, and there are always outliers to perfection. It is very important to know the signs that can indicate a CPAP machine that is not working, and what to do about it when reaching this obstacle.
With CPAP machines, you are most commonly prescribed one pressure setting on your machine for the whole night. This setting is prescribed by your sleep specialist and will be unique to each individual. If your pressure is set too low or on the wrong setting, you may experience increased sleep apnea symptoms. Side effects of a pressure setting that is too high can be nasal congestion, discomfort or interrupted sleep.
If you do notice a change in your sleeping patterns, sleep apnea symptoms or other problems, your CPAP machine may need to be adjusted. CPAP machines monitor and record your treatment throughout the night, so you can easily access your data and have it reviewed by your doctor or sleep specialist.
If you are struggling to use your CPAP machine, please contact your sleep physician or contact the team at CPAP Direct to help you get back to a good night's sleep.