Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is the frontline treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. This form of therapy requires nightly use of a PAP device which is an electrical device, small enough to be placed on a nightstand, that connects to the patient via tubing and a mask.
If the PAP device delivers continuous pressurized air, it is referred to as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. A CPAP device is an electrical device that provides pressurized air to the patient through tubing and a mask. The machine, which is placed on a nightstand, has a pump that controls the airflow, a tube that carries the air from the machine to the patient, and a mask that goes over the patient’s mouth, nose, or both. The PAP device takes in air from the room, lightly pressurizes it, and then delivers to the patient through the mask a constant stream of pressurized air. The pressurized air serves to keep the airway passages open during sleep, thus eliminating snoring and the pauses in breathing that are caused by the sleep apnea. With use of the PAP device, breathing becomes regular, snoring stops, the patient is not awakened by lack of oxygen, and restful sleep is restored.
To determine the right level of air pressure necessary to alleviate the sleep apnea, a titration polysomnography is generally conducted as an overnight study in the sleep center.
There are many types of masks used with the CPAP device. Some cover both the nose and mouth; others cover only the nose. Alternatively, "nasal pillows" fit into the nostrils. No matter what type of mask is used, it is important that it fits well and makes a good seal to prevent air leaks and maintain the right level of pressurized air. It may take some time to find the right mask but the goal is to find the one that is not only comfortable but also functional.
Some CPAP machines also come with humidifiers to prevent your nose and throat from becoming dry while you breathe pressurized air during the night.
Staff members work with patients to find the type of mask that is the most comfortable. Tension on the straps of the mask may need to be adjusted so that the mask fits securely and comfortably. Also, the settings on the machine may need to be adjusted accordingly.