Sleep Disorders Program - Vancouver Coastal Health

Sleep Disorders Program

Patient Resources

Sleep Disorders Information

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

What is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP ("see-pap"), is the treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP is delivered via a small, bedside compressor. The CPAP unit draws in room air through filters at the back of the unit, compresses the air to a pressure prescribed by your doctor, and is delivered to your airway by way of a mask.

The continuous pressure within your airway acts like a splint to prevent the airway form collapsing, which allows normal breathing while sleeping.

Does It Hurt?

NO. Like any type of new therapy there may be a period of adjustment in using the CPAP unit and mask. Any discomfort from possible dryness or nasal congestion can generally be relieved by the use of a humidifier.

How Do I Get One?

CPAP is available only by prescription. The CPAP Coordinator will discuss with you the various machines and masks available and associated costs. This orientation may include a 20 minute video explaining the basic operating principles, application of the machine and equipment care. UBCH sleep patients are given a 4-6 week trial of therapy from one of your local vendors in order to establish its effectiveness before committing to it long term. You will be given an information package prior to leaving your clinic appointment or from the sleep lab once CPAP has been prescribed.

How Do I Know If It's Working For Me?

Within the two weeks of continuous use of CPAP, you should notice improvement of your symptoms such as daytime sleepiness. Your bed partner will thank you for not snoring, and nighttime oxygen levels will improve and possibly your blood pressure as well. You may experience a general feeling of increased psychological well-being. Remember that you need to use the machine nightly to get these benefits to your sleep and overall health.

There may be some "fine-tuning" of the delivered pressures based on symptoms, overnight oximetry or a follow-up sleep study. You will be given an appointment with your doctor within 4-7 weeks of starting therapy in order to monitor you progress and deal with any questions or concerns you may have. Out of town patients are encouraged to contact the CPAP Coordinator with any problems they may have as they sometimes do not have a follow-up appointment scheduled. Further follow-up with the doctor is scheduled as required. If several months pass between visits, a re-referral may be necessary.

Does CPAP Cure Sleep Apnea?

NO. CPAP is a treatment for sleep apnea, not a cure. In order to get the benefit of CPAP you must use it nightly or whenever you are sleeping. You should wear the unit for the entire time you will be sleeping.

Are They Noisy?

The sound of the CPAP unit is like a gentle humming of a fan. Some units may be louder than others so it's best to look at different manufacturers. The newer CPAP units are much quieter than previous units.

Travelling With CPAP

CPAP units come with a convenient carrying bag. This can easily be stowed as carry-on luggage. Most newer units have dual voltage capability for international travel and/or a DC adaptor for use with a battery when camping or boating.

You may wish to keep a copy of your prescription and have a letter from your sleep specialist for security purposes. Please inform the CPAP Coordinator if you require this information.

Cost of CPAP

Each CPAP vendor is responsible for setting the price of the units. Price is dependent on the vendor, the manufacturer, and the added features the CPAP unit may have. UBC Sleep Disorders Program provides a list of CPAP vendors so you will be able to compare pricing and services provided by the various vendors. Remember that you are given an initial 4-6 week trial of CPAP (may need to purchase mask for this).

At the present time, the cost of nasal CPAP is not covered under the BC Medical Plan. Some extended benefits plans will cover a portion of the cost, but this varies form one plan to another. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Ministry of Social Services and Housing will pay for the equipment for eligible patients.

How Long Do The Units Last?

CPAP units generally have a 2 year warranty, and will work efficiently for 8-10 years if used and maintained properly. It is a good idea to have your pressure checked annually to ensure the unit is providing the appropriate level of therapy. This is a service your CPAP vendor should supply.

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