Healthy Living

The Importance of Maintaining CPAP Settings

The Importance of Maintaining CPAP Settings

There are currently more than 22 million people in the United States with diagnosed sleep apnea, which is a dangerous condition that causes poor sleep by interrupting breathing. Sleep apnea can result in impaired cardiac health, cognitive difficulties, and overall sleep deprivation if not treated immediately, but more often than not, this sleep disorder is ignored rather than taken care of. The most common form of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, which is when the airways are blocked during sleep. 

Those who suspect that they have sleep apnea are typically diagnosed by a doctor who specializes in sleep health, otherwise known as a sleep medicine specialitst.  Depending on the severity of their symptoms, patients will be asked to participate in an overnight sleep study at a specialized clinic or will monitor their own sleep using a home sleep apnea testing machine to receive their formal diagnosis.

During the test, technicians will observe the airways to see if and when they become completely blocked during an episode. A partially collapsed airway is referred to as hypopnea while a completely collapsed is referred to as apnea. Whether the airway is fully or partially collapsed, every time this happens, it’s called an ‘event’. The total number of events that happen in one hour will provide the technician with the patient’s hypopnea index (AHI). 

The AHI helps to determine the severity of the apnea and also helps to determine the right course of treatment. These are how the severity of sleep apnea is treated, depending on how many events during a nightly basis:

  • 5 or fewer events = normal. Other than the occasional bouts of restless sleep for the patient there are really no other symptoms that occur and mild apnea typically doesn’t require intervention.
  • 5 to 15 events = mild OSA. Sufferers may feel some of the effects of sleep apnea like mid-day slumps. Intervention may be required.
  • 15 to 30 = moderate OSA. Bedmates may have started to complain about the snoring going on next to them.  Intervention is required.
  • 30 or more = severe OSA. This requires immediate intervention and the use of a CPAP machine every time the patient sleeps.

Treatment is typically the required use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). The CPAP machine treats sleep apnea by blowing moist air into the body through a mask to prevent the airways from collapsing. CPAP also treats other symptoms such as snoring and the unfortunate loud choking sound that happens when the body is jolted awake due to a lack of oxygen. 

CPAP machines have different settings that determine at what level to set the air pressure.  For the most part, the majority of the CPAP machines are set at a low setting to start, regardless of the severity of the apnea.  Typically patients will eventually require a higher air pressure setting to ensure the effectiveness of the CPAP, but it’s best to start slow.