Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Overview

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
  • The CPAP mask, worn snugly over the nose, or sometimes nose and mouth, during sleep, supplies pressurized air that flows continuously or intermittently into the sleeper’s throat.
  • The increased air pressure prevents the sleeper’s airway from collapsing.
  • Studies of the effect of CPAP therapy show that people with sleep apnea who consistently use their machines feel better and, as a result of the reduction of apnea and hypopnea episodes during sleep, encounter fewer complications of the disease, says the 

CPAP Anatomy

  • Patients inhale air is inhaled through the nose, and the air travels through the nasopharynx, oropharynx, into the larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and finally, to the alveoli. Sometimes, portions of the respiratory tract can be occluded by excess tissue, tonsillar overgrowth, the poor tone of the musculature, fatty excess, secretions among others. The forced air delivered by CPAP helps to keep the airways patent and prevents collapse, says the NIH.

CPAP Machines

  • CPAP machines come in a variety of designs. Some simply provide a varying continuous stream of air, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
  • Others have two pressure levels, one lower to ease exhaling (BiPAP), or vary pressure during the breathing cycle in a series of adjustments (VPAP).


With a predicted shortfall of hospital ventilators needed to treat people diagnosed with COVID-19 disease with breathing problems, the US FDA has authorized the use of CPAP and similar devices to help cover the forecasted shortage.

  • March 31, 2020 - New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo said ‘local doctors made extra ventilators from breathing machines for people with conditions like sleep apnea.’ "Northwell developed an idea to use a BiPAP machine," Gov. Cuomo said. "We've ordered 7,000 of those. ... We're working and figuring it out."

  • March 23, 2020 - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took significant steps to increase the availability of ventilators and other respiratory devices, to support patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing.

  • March 15, 2020 - George Washington University Law professor John Banzhaf, an MIT-trained engineer, and inventor suggested the possibility of using existing CPAP machines, used to combat sleep apnea, as devices to help persons with respiratory problems due to coronavirus infection.
  • February 27, 2020 - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Safety Communication to inform patients and healthcare providers that devices claiming to clean, disinfect or sanitize CPAP devices or accessories using ozone gas or ultraviolet (UV) light are not legally marketed for this use by the FDA, in the USA, and as such, their safety and effectiveness for use with CPAP devices and accessories is unknown.

CPAP Research

  • 2019 - Automatic EPAP intelligent volume-assured pressure support is effective in patients with chronic respiratory failure: A randomized trial.

  • 2019 - Prevalence and Sources of Errors in Positive Airway Pressure Therapy Provisioning.

  • 2017 - Treating Chronic Hypoventilation With Automatic Adjustable Versus Fixed EPAP Intelligent Volume-Assured Positive Airway Pressure Support (iVAPS): A Randomized Controlled Trial.

  • 2010 - Best clinical practices for the sleep center adjustment of noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) in stable chronic alveolar hypoventilation syndromes.


Note: Content published on this page is aggregated from the FDA, CDC, NIH, and has been fact-checked by healthcare providers, such as Dr. Robert Carlson.