Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)

CPAP machines for OSA

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most effective treatment if you have moderate to severe OSA.

If you have mild OSA, CPAP is only recommended if your symptoms affect your quality of life or other treatment options have not worked.

CPAP is a simple machine that pumps air through a mask you wear at night. It’s designed to hold your airway open while you’re asleep. It sends air at pressure into your upper airway to stop it collapsing or narrowing. Your sleep clinic or the machine itself will set the pressure for you.

Before you leave the clinic with your CPAP, it’s really important to get clear instructions on how to fit the mask, use the machine and keep the equipment clean. It’s vital that you use the CPAP properly or the treatment won’t be effective. If you’re unsure about anything, ask the sleep clinic or call our helpline on 03000 030 555.

If you’re having trouble with your CPAP, try our suggestions. The hope2 sleep website also has tips. If this doesn’t help, get in touch with your sleep clinic.

On this page 

Getting used to a CPAP machine

CPAP can feel odd to start with and you may be tempted to stop using it. But people who stick with it soon find their symptoms improve significantly – within a week of using it consistently. About a third of people we asked said it had taken over 6 months to get used to it. But almost everyone said it was the best treatment for them.

Research indicates that the longer you use it each night - the more you benefit. Try to use it every night, especially at the beginning of the night, when we tend to sleep most deeply. If you’re having problems, ask your sleep clinic for help.

The CPAP machine

The machine blows air under pressure through a mask and makes a low noise that you and your partner will need to get used to. It uses ordinary room air and is powered from an ordinary power supply. It should last about 7 years.

The air pressure 

You will not be able to adjust the air pressure once the clinic has set it. Some machines have a ramp feature that may help you to get used to the pressure. The machine starts at a lower pressure and increases to your pre-set pressure over the first few minutes.

It’s normal to feel it’s harder to breathe out. Once you’re asleep, your body will get used to this, but it may take time. 

The mask 

CPAP masks come in many shapes and sizes:

  • masks that fits over your nose. You will need to keep your mouth closed while sleeping
  • masks that fits over your nose and mouth. These work if you breathe through your mouth when you sleep, have nasal blockage or still snore with a nasal mask 
  • masks that cover your whole face
  • nasal pillows, which fit against your nostrils 

Your clinic should be able to help you find the best mask for you.

Getting a good air seal

The mask has a soft, flexible cushion that rests against your face. Getting this cushion in the right place is important so that it is comfortable, won’t hurt you and makes a good seal with no air leaks. If the mask is too loose or too tight, the seal won’t be effective.

The tubing

The flexible tubing carries air from the machine to your mask. It may be more comfortable if you run the tubing above and behind your head. Changing the position of the machine can also help you to find a comfortable place for the tubing.

Humidifiers

Some people find their CPAP more comfortable if it has a humidifier to moisten and warm the air from the machine. Some clinics issue humidifiers as standard, but others issue them only if you find the air uncomfortably cold and dry.

Looking after your CPAP

Your CPAP machine should come with instructions about how to use it, keeping the components clean, and washing or changing the filters. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you’re having trouble with your CPAP, have a look at our quick troubleshoot guide 

CPAP troubleshooting guide

 

Kath tells her story of using a CPAP machineCPAP is my best friend - Kath's story

“Today I feel healthier than I did 20 years before my diagnosis”

Kath describes how CPAP treatment has made a difference to her life.

It spurred her to set up Hope2Sleep to help others use CPAP successfully too.
 

 I was confident my sleep test would prove I didn’t have OSA. It turned out I had moderate to severe OSA, averaging 30 apnoeas an hour.

Yes, I knew I was a snorer, and yes, I was always tired. But I put that down to being a busy music teacher and just allowed myself the odd nap when I could fit one in. I certainly wasn’t overweight.

My diagnosis was a relief. It explained why I would practically collapse with exhaustion every now and then. More importantly, I was told I could enjoy a much better quality of life with CPAP treatment.

I was excited the day I brought my CPAP machine home. I’d heard the stories of overnight cures. Well that didn’t happen. The truth is that most people have to persevere to get the comfortable night’s sleep we deserve.

I was determined to make it work. Today I feel healthier than I did in the 20 years before my diagnosis and CPAP has become my best friend.”

Next: Driving if you have OSA >

If you have urgent concerns or need advice quickly, call our helpline on 03000 030 050 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: March 2019. Due for review: December 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.