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CPAP Vs. APAP - Understanding the Fundamental Differences

Puja Lalwani Apr 7, 2019
Here's a look into the effectiveness of CPAP and APAP machines, that will tell you which one is more suitable for you. Have a look...
CPAP and APAP machines are devices that are primarily used to help those suffering from sleep apnea and other breathing problems. Sleep apnea occurs when the respiratory passages are blocked while sleeping, resulting in sudden bouts of breathlessness and similar breathing problems at night. These machines work to enable breathing when such instances occur.
Both are based on the principles of Positive Airway Pressure (PAP), that enables easy breathing among those with respiratory conditions. While CPAP refers to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, APAP refers to Automatic Positive Airway Pressure.
There is also another device known as BiPAP, that refers to Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure. While the purpose of each device is the same, the way they function varies slightly.

Difference Between APAP & CPAP

CPAP is an air pump that delivers pressurized air into the nasal passages through a hose, along with a nasal interface that goes into the patient's throat. The air provided reduces instances of breathlessness at night by providing an adequate amount of air into the lungs. This machine also prevents snoring.
A nasal mask is used to deliver the air. In some cases, a mask that covers both, the nose and the mouth may be provided, but these have been found less effective in comparison to one that uses only a nasal mask.
A CPAP machine may cause side effects such as nasal dryness and congestion. In order to prevent these side effects, heated humidifiers have now been made available along with them. This does not completely eliminate the effects but only reduces them slightly.
While using the CPAP, it is essential that the mouth be closed, so that the air pressure reaches the throat. More often than not, a chin strap is used to keep a patient's mouth closed.
The APAP machine, on the other hand, allows for a change of air pressure with each breath taken by the patient. This is the most prominent and effective difference between the two devices. This means, while the CPAP allows for a continuous airway pressure level, the APAP allows for adjustments based on the requirement of the patient.
For example, when a person using the APAP changes her/his sleeping position, it adjusts the pressure levels to ensure that the required pressure is maintained. This is unlike the CPAP, which maintains one pressure level throughout, irrespective of changes in the sleeping position or breathing patterns.
In some cases, the breathing of a patient may be normal. At a time like this, the APAP delivers only the required air pressure. If you have a sudden bout of shortness of breath, it will adjust the pressure levels to fulfill your breathing requirements.
This is why APAP machines have been found more effective than the CPAP or BiPAP machines. All three require you to wear a mask, but the level of efficiency of each varies considerably.
The settings of both these machines should be made only by your doctor. Do not make an attempt to set these machines on your own. Based on the intensity of you condition, your doctor will decide on the air pressure required by you while breathing.
These machines can only be purchased upon prescription, and will be set either by your doctor or your pharmacist (by following suitable instructions by the doctor).
If you believe you are suffering from a sleep disorder, it is essential that you visit your doctor at the earliest. Only your doctor will tell you whether you require any of the PAP machines to control episodes of shortness of breath at night, and will explain to you the use of CPAP and APAP advising you about which one would be more beneficial.
Do not diagnose yourself, as health is a very sensitive issue that should be dealt with in the appropriate manner.