cpap machine

Perhaps it all started with a forceful nudge from your spouse during the night to try to stop your snoring. Then came the headaches, the daytime drowsiness---all the classic symptoms of sleep apnea. Your doctor offered a solution: a CPAP machine. But what is it, and how does it help treat sleep apnea?

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea affects millions of Americans each year. It is a condition where you stop breathing hundreds of times throughout the night. While snoring is one of the most common symptoms, not everyone with sleep apnea will snore. Therefore, a sleep study is usually needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

If you’re not sure whether or not you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, take one of these online quizzes from the American Sleep Apnea Association and share your results with one of our ENT doctors. We’ll be glad to help you and answer any of your questions.

What is a CPAP machine?

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. A CPAP machine is a small device that has a mask and flexible tubing. You wear the mask while you sleep. Oxygen is delivered through the mask, providing a gentle, constant stream of air. This pressure keeps your airways open throughout the night.

The tubing is long enough to enable you to turn over in your sleep, and the machine itself doesn’t make loud noises, so you and your partner won’t be awakened by it, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

There are different types of masks you can use with your CPAP machine:

  • A mask that covers only your nose
  • One that covers both your nose and mouth
  • "Nasal pillows" that fit in your nostrils.

The type of mask you use is not as important as ensuring it is a good fit. Your CPAP units may have a "ramp" setting. This enables your CPAP machine to start the air pressure at a low level, gradually increasing it until it reaches the optimum level to treat your sleep apnea. This will help you fall asleep more comfortably.

Tips for using your CPAP machine

It might take a while to get used to your CPAP machine. Remember that this is a lifestyle change and it may take time.  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these useful tips:

  1. Start by wearing your mask for short periods during the evening. For example, wear it while watching TV or reading.
  2. Use the CPAP every night. This is important not only for its effectiveness, but to help you get used to it. If you don’t use it consistently, it’s more difficult for your body to adjust.
  3. Use your CPAP when you take a nap.
  4. Your CPAP should feel natural when you’re trying to fall asleep---so don’t be discouraged if it takes time.
  5. Be sure your mask is adjusted properly—a good fit is vital for effective therapy. We’ll be happy to assist you to ensure a good fit.
  6. If the pressure feels too high, you can use the “ramp” mode on your CPAP unit.
  7. Your CPAP works best when you use it for the entire night, so be consistent in your use.
  8. You may wish to use a special pillow that is shaped to accommodate CPAP equipment.
  9. Clean your equipment regularly.
  10. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

What are the benefits of CPAP treatment?

First, it eliminates breathing pauses caused by sleep apnea. Therefore, you should be able to have uninterrupted sleep throughout the night without snoring or choking.

Other benefits include:

  • Feeling more alert during the daytime
  • Improved mood
  • Better memory
  • Reduced risk of diseases associated with sleep apnea

Remember that using a CPAP machine is a lifestyle change.

Using a CPAP machine may be a challenge at first, but the benefits far outweigh the temporary inconvenience.

However, sometimes there are structural problems with the throat that may require surgical intervention. At Raleigh Capitol ENT, we provide surgical options for obstructive sleep apnea.

Interested in learning more about sleep apnea? You’ll find the following articles useful:

Four Ways Sleep Apnea Can Be Deadly

How to Stop Snoring

Four Solutions for Sleep Apnea

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.



  • American Sleep Apnea Association. “Sleep Apnea Information for Individuals.”

  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “CPAP Overview”

  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “CPAP Tips.”