Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the primary method used to treat sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes you to briefly stop breathing while you sleep. This happens when tissues at the top of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, causing your breathing to momentarily halt. When you stop breathing, you wake up briefly, which causes the tissues at the top of the throat to constrict and un-block the airway. This cycle may repeat many times during the night, preventing restful sleep and causing daytime sleepiness.
CPAP treatment involves wearing a mask over your face or your nose while you sleep. The mask is connected to a pump, which creates a positive air flow into the nasal passages and throat. This keeps the airways open and prevents the tongue and tissues in the back of the throat from blocking the airway. Some CPAP machines have additional functions, such as providing heated humidified air.
CPAP can be very effective. In addition to preventing sleep apnea, it can reduce snoring, improve quality of sleep, and decrease high blood pressure. Many people who use CPAP say that they began feeling better shortly after beginning treatment.