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By: Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT on June 13th, 2016

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What is APAP Therapy? A Comprehensive Breakdown

Sleep Medicine

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, APAP is a term you may have heard. It may even be used to describe the treatment therapy you've been prescribed. Despite it's popularity, many people have questions about this type of treatment. 

What is APAP?

APAP is short term for “Automatic Positive Airway Pressure,” and is one of the three main forms of positive airway pressure that delivers air to your airway to help you breathe during sleep if you have sleep apnea.

Like other PAP (Positive Airway Pressure) machines, the APAP machine is a device that is connected with a non-invasive mask to a pressure generator that is designed to deliver air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep.

How does APAP Therapy Work?

The air pressure delivered from the machine acts as a splint, keeping your throat from collapsing in on itself so that you can breathe freely through the night without any apnea events.  Most machines use a set pressure determined during a PAP titration study in the sleep center.

APAP on the other hand, has two settings, a low pressure setting and a high pressure setting, that allows the machine to automatically adjust itself to meet each patient’s breathing needs, which may change throughout the night as he or she moves in and out of differing stages of sleep or changes sleeping position.

How APAP Could Be The Right Choice

1. Multiple studies found APAP machines to be most reliable

According to experts, APAP devices, when compared to other devices, improved sleep stage distribution and provided comparable improvements in daytime sleepiness as did other forms of PAP treatments. In addition, APAP machines are a more popular choice among patients, as they deliver the appropriate pressure as needed.

2. APAP machines adjust proactively rather than reactively

APAP machines can identify airflow limitation early and prevent the collapse of the upper airway.  After patients fall asleep and their pressure needs begin to vary, APAP machines can adjust pressure levels depending on the degree of airway blockage such as respiratory flow limitation, snore and apnea. The self-adjusting feature of APAP machines can be especially useful if you have allergies, a cold, or a respiratory infection that causes your airways to be more congested than usual.

Also keep in mind that each individual manufacturer has its own proprietary APAP algorithm, and each performs at a different level, responding differently to different breathing patterns. That is why it is important for you to use a device that has a clinically validated algorithm to ensure adequate treatment.

3. APAP machines allow for flexibility

If you’re not sure which titration therapy works best for you, the good news is that APAP machines can also be set to a straight CPAP mode. If you think that  the auto-adjusting pressure settings don't work for you, and your physician wants to try a single pressure setting, your APAP machine can be set to CPAP mode.

Remember that APAP therapy may not be right for everyone

Avoid using an APAP machine if you suffer from chronic heart failure, central sleep apnea or obesity hypoventilation syndrome.  APAP machine algorithms may not have been calibrated to treat these issues so it’s recommended that you follow your sleep physician’s advice.

Keep in mind that APAP therapy is not one that you set-and-forget.  If you’re a patient, make sure that you follow up with your sleep physician.  Your physician can refer you to a sleep technologist who can assist you to address issues like  mask fit and humidity needs and help you to maintain compliance with your therapy.

Do you want to know more about sleep apnea treatment options, or other sleep technology terms you should know? Download our eBook for 42 terms and definitions all sleep techs should be aware of. 

Sleep Technology Terms and Definitions


About Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT

Because of the implementation of his best practices of Implementing Inbound Marketing in its Medical Practice, he turned the once stagnant online presence of Alaska Sleep Clinic to that of "The Most Trafficked Sleep Center Website in the World" in just 18 months time. He is the President and CEO of inboundMed and enjoys helping sleep centers across the globe grow their business through his unique vision and experience of over 27 years in sleep medicine.

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