Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea.

Key points to remember

  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a safe and effective treatment for children with obstructive sleep apnoea 
  • a CPAP machine holds the airway open by gently blowing air into the breathing passages at a set pressure 

Treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea leads to better quality sleep. In many cases it improves daytime functioning, such as behaviour and concentration. 

What is continuous positive airway pressure?

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). In OSA the airways become narrowed and collapse in sleep. (See snoring or noisy breathing).

Child with CPAP mask

A CPAP machine holds the airway open by gently blowing air into the breathing passages (nose, throat and 'airways') at a set pressure. This stops the airway from narrowing as can happen in obstructive sleep apnoea. It helps the person breathe easily and get a good night's sleep. The level of pressure needs to be set individually for each person and is delivered by a mask. Masks come in different shapes and sizes. They may just cover the nose or both the nose and mouth. They are held gently in place by a small cap and straps.

What are the benefits of CPAP?

CPAP is a safe and effective treatment for children with obstructive sleep apnoea. People with severe sleep apnoea symptoms generally feel much better once they begin treatment with CPAP. Treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea leads to the child having better quality sleep which in many cases improves their daytime functioning, such as behaviour and concentration. Other specific benefits may apply to your child and should be discussed with your doctor.

CPAP is not a cure and sleep apnoea will return if CPAP is stopped or if it is not used correctly.

To get the best benefit, it is important that your child wears the CPAP every night, for the whole time they are asleep.

What are the side effects of CPAP?

CPAP treatment may cause side effects in some people, such as a dry or stuffy nose, irritation of the skin on the face, and sore eyes due to air leaking around the mask. These side effects can usually be prevented or controlled by simple measures like using a nasal spray or adjusting the size/fit of the mask.

Your child may grow out of the mask or the mask may get damaged, so it is important to see your doctor or the sleep technologists regularly.

If your child has trouble with CPAP side effects, you should talk with your paediatrician or sleep technician as soon as possible.

This page last reviewed 06 October 2015.
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