Do you have sleep apnea? If you can't answer this question, then you don't need a CPAP machine. Short for continuous positive airway pressure, CPAP machines are designed for obstructive sleep apnea. So really, do you need a CPAP machine? This question brings up more questions than it answers.
Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing gets interrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea comes in two flavors: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs the brain isn't able to signal the correct muscles to breathe as a result of an unstable respiratory control center. CPAP machines were not designed for central sleep apnea. If you have central sleep apnea, then the question is answered. A CPAP machine is not for you.
Most people with sleep apnea experience the other flavor: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is exactly how it sounds: your breathing is obstructed, or blocked. The most common cause of airway blockage is the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. I have experience with this but it doesn't happen often enough to warrant a CPAP machine. I wake up, often choking on my own saliva. If I can't get back to sleep I can kiss a good night's sleep goodbye. To sum it up, it's not a pleasant experience.
How Do CPAP Machines Work?
CPAP machines prevent your airway from collapsing by providing continuous air pressure into your mouth and lungs. This is an at-home treatment. The cost averages in the $500-$1500 range for a machine. These will include a mask that covers your nose, a mask that covers your nose and mouth, or prongs that fit into your nose. The mask that covers your nose is called Nasal Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (NCPAP) and is the most common type of mask.
CPAP treatment machines offer non-surgical treatment of OSA. This approach gained widespread popularity and is a very common choice of treatment.
Alternative Treatment Options
CPAP machines aren't the only snoring treatment options available. Other available treatment options include mandibular advancement devices (MAD) and tongue retaining devices. These are collectively known as snoring mouthpieces.
Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD)
Mandibular advancement devices often take on the appearance of the mouth guards used in contact sports like football. The purpose and idea behind them is to reposition your lower jaw in a forward position. This ensures your tongue and palate has a place to rest without obstruction to the airways. These devices use a material called thermoplastic, which is often called boil and bite technology. By heating the device in boiling water and biting into it, you are creating a custom mold of your teeth to ensure the right fit. These devices have pieces for both the upper and lower dental arches and are typically designed to pull the lower jaw forward. Higher priced models are adjustable to provide a more customized fitting.
These devices are far cheaper than CPAP machines. These fall in the overnight oral devices category, are not electronic, and don't have face masks. They have other side effects, such as time to get used to having your jaw repositioned. These devices are often recommended by dental professionals after they determine that your lower jaw is part of your snoring problem. Soreness and discomfort are temporary as you get used to the device.
Tongue Retaining Devices
Tongue retaining devices are another alternative to CPAP machines in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. By pulling the tongue forward, the open space in your mouth increases and opens your airway. Your tongue is prevented from hitting the pharyngeal wall (the soft tissue in the back of your throat) that can prevent you from breathing. Because these devices don't fit on your teeth, they don't need thermoplastic material nor do they require custom fitting by dental professionals.
No treatment is without side effects. Tongue retaining devices side effects are minor. You may experience excess salivation during the first week of use, and you may experience difficulty swallowing because your tongue is being stretched. After the excess salivation reduces, your difficulty swallowing will subside.
Risks & Complications of CPAP Machines
Research shows that CPAP is an effective treatment of OSA. The benefits of a good night's sleep include lower blood pressure and decreased daytime sleepiness. In a lot of cases, it has shown to lower the risk of heart failure.
CPAP has its fair share of risks, though. Reported issues associated with CPAP machines include excessive dreaming, dry nose, runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, facial skin irritation, and leaks because of an ill-fitting mask. Nosebleeds are rare, but they have been reported. Most of these symptoms are temporary.
Obviously, you're not used to hooking up to a machine every night to breathe. Facial skin irritation and mild morning discomfort are expected when physical objects are pressed against your skin for prolonged periods of time.
There are ways to reduce part of these side effects. For starters, make sure the mask fits. This can reduce the skin irritation. Take common allergy medicine to relieve a runny or dry nose. Talk to your doctor to see if a different CPAP machine would be more appropriate for you.
Garden Variety CPAP Machines
There are several choices of available CPAP machines. Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) can detect when you are inhaling and exhaling. These machines will change the air pressure when you breathe. This allows you to exhale against a different air pressure making the machine feel more natural. An Auto-Titrating Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) will change the air pressure as it's needed. This allows for a more natural sleeping state.
All these machines are considered CPAP machines. As a result, 'CPAP' can be an ambiguous term, enveloping any of these machines.
Do You Need a CPAP Machine?
We asked why a CPAP machine might not be for you. To answer this question, we need to narrow down the group of people who benefit from CPAP machine and see what we can learn. It’s obvious that if you are just an average snorer, CPAP machines are not your only treatment option. They are far from your most expensive choice, but they're not the cheapest, either. There are two people who can decide if a CPAP machine is right for you or not. One of them is your doctor. The other is you.