CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea and severe snoring. CPAP machines force pressurized air through a hose and mask in order to open up the airways and improve breathing during sleep. Many CPAP users experience a number of problems when beginning treatment, and some worry that CPAP machines pose serious health risks. In most cases, any problems or side effects from CPAP use disappear with continued treatment, or with adjustments to the type of mask used or the amount of pressurized air the machine delivers.
Nasal Congestion, Sore Throat, Allergy Symptoms
Nasal congestion, dry eyes, nosebleeds, headaches and sore throats are some of the most commonly reported side effects of early treatment with CPAP. When these symptoms are severe, there is an increased risk of throat infections, sinus infections and conjunctivitis. Adjustments to pressure settings and the addition of a humidifier to the CPAP machine will help alleviate these symptoms. A saline nasal spray is also useful at preventing nasal congestion when used at bedtime. In rare cases, severe nosebleeds may occur following CPAP use. These require medical attention.
Skin Irritation and Sores
Skin irritation can occur if a CPAP mask is not kept clean or does not fit properly. Sores may develop on the face that may become infected if left untreated. Adjustments to the straps or pads of the CPAP mask and regularl cleanings can help prevent rashes and sores from developing. Most masks can be washed in warm, soapy water. However, it is important to read your CPAP instruction manual carefully for proper cleaning and maintenance instructions.
Risk of Suffocation
Choking sensations or a fear of suffocation cause many apnea patients to discontinue CPAP therapy. CPAP masks are designed to improve breathing, and they do not pose any risk of suffocation when used as directed. The fear of suffocation typically results from anxiety, claustrophobic feelings, or a poorly fitting mask. Moreover, most masks include carbon dioxide ventilation holes, which enable it to be filtered out of the mouth and through the mask in the event the machine loses power. Using a different type of mask or performing relaxation techniques before bed can help alleviate anxiety.
Increased Risk of Meningitis
One potentially fatal danger of CPAP use is the development of meningitis. Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the lining of the spinal cord and brain. This complication is very rare, but is potentially fatal. Meningitis associated with CPAP use nearly always results from an untreated sinus infection. Symptoms of meningitis, such as severe headache, sensitivity to light, sleepiness, confusion, vision changes, stiff neck, high fever and vomiting, are considered a medical emergency.
Excluding surgical options, CPAP therapy is the most effective means of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects approximately 12 million American men and women. The American Academy of Otolaryngology states that CPAP use eliminates nearly all apnea episodes when used properly and continuously. Without effective treatment, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, memory problems, cardiovascular disease, headaches, impotency and weight gain.