Continuous positive airway pressure, abbreviated as CPAP, is a form of respiratory therapy. It is used to force air into the nasal passage and keep air passages open. CPAP delivers air to small sacs in the lung called alveoli.
How is it used?
A CPAP machine is a piece of equipment that is similar to an air compressor. It uses pressure to force air into the air passages. The air can be given with a mask or through a tube in the nose. In some cases, oxygen may be added to the air that is delivered. CPAP is usually used at night, when the person is asleep. A CPAP machine is available only with a prescription from a healthcare professional.
Who can benefit from this therapy?
Some children with respiratory problems can benefit from CPAP. These children can breathe on their own and do not need mechanical ventilation, but they cannot maintain an adequate oxygen level in their blood. CPAP gives them help with deep breathing.
CPAP is also useful for adults with sleep apnea, as a way to deliver an uninterrupted supply of air. A steady air supply can prevent the episodes of breathing stoppage that are caused by sleep apnea. The positive pressure forces air into the lungs, keeps the oxygen in the blood at a normal level, and prevents the tissue in and around the throat from collapsing.
CPAP is sometimes used in intensive care units for people who have pulmonary edema, that is, fluid in the lungs. It may also be used in respiratory distress syndrome, a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs. In these individuals, CPAP is used to maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
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American Sleep Apnea Association, [hyperLink url="http://www.sleepapnea.org/" linkTitle="www.sleepapnea.org"]www.sleepapnea.org[/hyperLink]. Mosby's Medical, Nursing,&Allied Health Dictionary, 1998.
AACN'S Clinical Reference for Critical-Care Nursing, Kinney et al, 1993.