Breathing at Night
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is a treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA occurs when your airway weakens and collapses during sleep, as you are breathing in. (The exact cause of this weakening is not well understood.) While your airway is thus closed, your blood pressure and heart rate spikes, and your blood oxygen levels may drop severely. The struggle to resume breathing interrupts your sleep for a split second, and then breathing usually resumes with a loud "snort". The result of these disruptions (which may occur up to 100 times per hour!) may be such severe daytime sleepiness that the patient is unable to work, drive or perform daily activities without nodding off.
Besides sleepiness, other tipoffs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea are loud, disruptive snoring, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating and remembering things during the day, personality changes (especially irritability), and frequent sore throats. You may also experience difficult to control high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, and loss of sexual desire. If untreated, OSA often gets worse, and may contribute to strokes, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, or other cardiovascular diseases.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea can be detected and quantified best by polysomnography. The primary treatment for this disorder is CPAP. A small mask or nasal cannula is applied to the nose and connected by tubing to a pressure generator (similar to an air purifier). The pressurized air prevents the airway from collapsing and allows the lungs and heart to work under less stress. The treatment is effective immediately, and symptoms begin disappearing the next morning.
Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) is a variant of CPAP where the pressurized air is delivered at higher pressure when you breathe in than when you exhale. It is often used to assist with breathing at night when lung disease is present, but may also be used by people with obstructive sleep apnea who have a difficult time exhaling.