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Home > Dental Conditions > Sleep Apnea > The Mechanics of a Sleep Apnea Machine
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The Mechanics of a Sleep Apnea Machine, Inside and Out

Sleep Apnea Machine – Gear up on sleep apnea equipment.

Not being able to breathe is a scary thing. It's even scarier when you're asleep and completely unaware of the situation. Yet, the American Sleep Apnea Association tells us that pauses in breathing throughout the night, known as sleep apnea, is a condition that affects more than 12 million Americans, putting them at risk for such problems as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea can either be obstructive, where the airway becomes blocked during the night, or central, where the brain fails to transmit signals to the breathing muscles.

Sometimes curing sleep apnea may just mean a lifestyle change, but for others, a little medical intervention is necessary. A sleep apnea machine is an adjustable airway pressure device designed to help you breath during the night. Common sleep apnea equipment consists of a machine and mask that are connected by a flexible hose. The sleep apnea machine itself uses a fan to pump pressurized air into the mask, which is strapped to your head while you sleep. This pressurized air keeps your airway open and helps prevent apneas from happening.

Sleep Apnea Machines

A "sleep apnea breathing machine" does not actually breathe for you. The sleep apnea machine is designed to create just enough pressure to keep your airway from collapsing during sleep, a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

The most common types of sleep apnea machines are:

CPAP -- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is the most effective way of treating obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP blows a continuous stream of pressurized air into the windpipe to keep it from collapsing. Although CPAP is the most common type of sleep apnea machine, some may find this sleep apnea equipment difficult to use. Because the airflow is constant, your lungs may have to work harder to exhale against the current, making it more difficult for some to breathe normally.

Auto CPAP -- Automatic continuous positive airway pressure (AutoPAP or APAP) sleep apnea machines are very similar to regular CPAP machines but offer a range of pressure settings that fluctuate to meet the breathing needs of each patient. It automatically adjusts the air pressure for each breath to the minimum necessary to maintain an open air path.

BiPAP -- Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure works at two different pressure levels to treat sleep apnea. It exerts a higher pressure that is similar to that of the CPAP when you inhale, then drops to a lower pressure when you exhale, making it easier for the lungs to push out air. The two different air pressures are set on a timer to work with your breathing pattern. This sleep apnea breathing machine may be a better option for those who have difficulty breathing against the continuous pressure of the CPAP.

BiPAP IMV or ST -- These variations of BiPAP sleep apnea equipment have a back-up response system if the user stops breathing. BiPAP with IMV (intermittent mandatory ventilation) senses a lapse in breathing and delivers bursts of air at pre-set pressures to stimulate breathing. The bilevel continuous airway pressure spontaneous-timed (BiPAP ST) sleep apnea machine is very similar -- if a break in breathing is detected for a certain length of time, BiPAP ST produces a higher pressure airflow.

ASV -- A recent addition to sleep apnea machines, Adaptive Servo-Ventilation is more often used to treat central sleep apnea. It not only provides continuous pressure to keep the airway open but adjusts breathing patterns as needed. ASV continuously monitors your breathing pattern and stores that information onto a computer throughout the night. If sleep apnea occurs, ASV increases pressure to maintain breathing at 90 percent of what was normal before breathing was interrupted. Once the patient starts breathing on his or her own again, the ASV slowly resumes to its minimal pressure setting (approximately 50 percent) for continued support of the airway structure.

Sleep Apnea Equipment Overview

The type of sleep apnea machine you choose depends on your needs. A sleep study may be necessary for your sleep professional to determine the best sleep apnea breathing machine for you. Some may find sleep apnea equipment cumbersome or noisy, so it's important to find one that won't disrupt your sleep pattern.

Here's some tips when it comes to choosing a sleep apnea machine:

  • Masks come in all shapes and sizes. They may cover your nose, your mouth and nose or come with prongs that fit into your nostrils. The mask should fit you so well that air does not leak out of it. Your comfort is also important -- many sleep apnea masks are cushioned to help prevent chaffing. You may want to experiment with different types of masks and straps prior to making your purchase.
  • The hose should be long enough to create a comfortable distance between you and your sleep apnea machine but not so long that it won't maintain its pressure. The standard hose length is six feet and can be draped over your headboard or the back of a chair to keep you from getting tangled in it while you sleep. Hoses longer than 12 feet will require added pressure.
  • Modern sleep apnea machines come with a variety of features to fit your lifestyle. Optional features include ramping, which gradually increases pressure as you get used to the machine, or an integrated humidifier to keep your nostrils from drying out. If you travel, you may be interested in sleep apnea equipment that automatically adjusts to the altitude or includes AC/DC adapters or battery packs. Many sleep apnea machines can now also monitor your progress and store this data for your doctor to review.

Keep in mind that while these machines can be paired with different types of masks, not all masks are compatible with all machines. Sleep apnea machines can also be very expensive, but insurance may cover all or part of the cost. You may want to try renting your sleep apnea machine until you find one that works for you. If you have questions about sleep apnea equipment, ask your dentist.

A great dentist can diagnose your problem and help you decide what type of sleep apnea treatment is best for you. To get started, call us at 1-866-970-0441.

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