What Is a BiPAP Machine?

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What Is a BiPAP Machine?
What Is a BiPAP Machine? (Image: Photo by author)

BiPAP stands for bi-level positive airway pressure. A BiPAP machine is a device to assist sleep apnea sufferers with breathing at night. Sleep apnea, also called obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when a person's airway collapses while he is sleeping. This collapse makes him stop breathing. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, untreated sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats and can increase the chance of having accidents.

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, you will be scheduled for a sleep study overnight at a sleep center. During your study, respiratory therapists will record how many times you stop breathing at night. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, the technician will then fit you with a mask and either a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine or a BiPAP.

Function

Unlike the CPAP, which blows a steady stream of air to keep the patient's airway open, the BiPAP has two levels of pressure---a higher pressure for inhalation and a lower pressure for exhalation. During the patient's sleep study, the technician will determine the correct air pressure for the patient and set the BiPAP machine accordingly. The BiPAP machine is usually prescribed for patients who find the continuous air pressure of the CPAP uncomfortable.

Features

BiPAP machines are made by several different companies, but most have similar features. The patient's choice may come down to what brand the sleep center prescribes or what is covered by the patient's medical insurance. In addition to the machine itself, an important feature is a humidifier to keep the blowing air from drying out the patient's nose and throat. The humidifier consists of a plastic chamber which the patient fills with distilled water and inserts into the BiPAP machine.

Additional Parts

The patient will also be fitted with a mask. Masks come in many different forms and sizes and are custom fit to each patient. Styles include those with small nasal pillows, masks that fit over the nose only and others that cover the mouth and nose. All masks come equipped with headgear to hold them in place. The masks are attached to tubing which connects to the BiPAP machine. The patient may have to try several different masks to find the one that works best for her and that she feels comfortable wearing.

Considerations

If you think you might have sleep apnea, you should tell your doctor. Signs that you may have sleep apnea include loud snoring, being excessively sleepy during the day, headaches, waking up frequently during the night and depression. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you will need to use the BiPAP or other treatment every night.

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