Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. CPAP typically is used by people who have breathing problems, such as sleep apnea.

CPAP also may be used to treat preterm infants whose lungs have not fully developed. For example, doctors may use CPAP to treat infants who have respiratory distress syndrome or bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

CPAP treatment involves a CPAP machine, which has three main parts:

  • A mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth. Straps keep the mask in place while you're wearing it.
  • A tube that connects the mask to the machine's motor.
  • A motor that blows air into the tube.

Some CPAP machines have other features as well, such as heated humidifiers. CPAP machines are small, lightweight, and fairly quiet. The noise that they make is soft and rhythmic.

CPAP often is the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. As a result, not enough air reaches your lungs.

In obstructive sleep apnea, your airway collapses or is blocked during sleep. When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring. Your snoring may wake other people in the house.

The mild pressure from CPAP can prevent your airway from collapsing or becoming blocked.

Your doctor will work with you to make sure the settings that he or she prescribes for your CPAP machine are correct. He or she may recommend an overnight sleep study to find the correct settings for you. Your doctor will want to make sure the air pressure from the machine is just enough to keep your airway open while you sleep.

CPAP also is used to treat preterm infants whose lungs have not fully developed. For this treatment, soft prongs are placed in an infant’s nostrils. The CPAP machine gently blows air into the baby's nose, which helps inflate his or her lungs.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.

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