What is a CPAP Ventilator?

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  • Written By: J. Uhl
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ventilator, also known as a CPAP machine, is a medical device that is used primarily to help individuals with sleep apnea breathe while sleeping. It also has several other uses. A CPAP ventilator can be used to help transition patients from intubation breathing tubes to breathing on their own, and it can be used to help people with obstructive pulmonary disorder (OPD) breathe at night.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes an interruption in the ability to breathe during sleep. A CPAP ventilator utilizes compressed air to open up the airway, allowing breathing to continue more normally. This machine consists of a small box, tubes and a mask. The mask is worn on the face, and air flows through the tubes and into the nose and mouth.

Individuals who have sleep apnea go through a professional sleep study to determine whether they will see benefits from the use of a CPAP ventilator. Sleep laboratories can observe patients overnight to gauge their specific degree of sleep apnea and any other potential sleeping problems. After this study, the laboratory can recommend the right types of ventilators and the level of air pressure that is required to see benefits.


There are other machines that are similar to a CPAP ventilator, such as a bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine. The difference between CPAP and BiPAP is that the CPAP provides continuous air pressure, and the BiPAP provides a different level of pressure for inhaling than for exhaling. Both machines offer benefits to individuals who have sleep disorders.

Modern CPAP ventilation machines are small and quiet, allowing them to be easily portable for travel and other purposes. Newer CPAP machines can record each breath, delivering air pressure only when it is required. There also are a variety of mask options, including some that fit over only the nose and some that do not require straps to be worn properly.

There are potential drawbacks to using a CPAP ventilator. Some users experience irritations to the eyes and skin, nasal congestion and dry throat. Others might experience sleep disruptions because of the noises caused by the CPAP ventilator machine itself. For many, the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks, but some sufferers are reluctant to rely on this machinery for breathing assistance.

Many of the side effects associated with CPAP machine use can be reduced if one works with a respiratory therapist. A properly fitting mask can dramatically reduce the side effects for many users. Using a humidifier in conjunction with the machine also can be very helpful.


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