Sleep Apnea Treatment: Steps to Choosing the Right CPAP Machine

CPAP Machine can be intimidating, but choosing the right options can make you more comfortable.(BVDC/FOTOLIA)Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are currently the most recommended treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, and patients often feel major improvement after using them for just one night. But before you decide whether the therapy works for you, it's important to consider the different options available: Where you buy your machine, which type you end up with, and what options are included will all affect how willing you are to use CPAP and how well it will work for you.
Getting a prescription 
To get an air pressure machine, you first need to be diagnosed with sleep apnea. This process will probably require an overnight study in a sleep clinic; a home sleep test may be another option.
After your initial sleep study, a technician will measure your body's response to different air pressure, or titration, levels. Most machines range from about 4 to 20 cm H20, meaning that they blow enough air to create a column of water that height.
Buy cpap machine Your prescription can be filled at a sleep clinic or another equipment retailer. It should include the following details.
  • The type of device—CPAP, BiPAP, or APAP, for example.
  • It can be generic, rather than a name brand or specific model, with some exceptions. "Most CPAP machines are interchangeable and it may take some time to find the best one," says Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr., MD, medical director of the Sleep Center at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. "If you're not limited to one machine, you can use the prescription for years to try newer models."
  • The correct pressure level. These levels are set before you receive the machine and should only be adjusted by a doctor or technician, never by the patient.
With your machine, you'll usually receive a six-foot hose and carrying case. Doctors might also include a note for a heated humidifier, which makes the harsh airflow more tolerable and reduces side effects such as dry throat and nasal congestion. You can buy a humidifier without a specific prescription, but if it's included on your slip you'll be sure not to overlook it. Masks and other accessories can also be sold without a prescription.
Many centers are equipped to provide you with a CPAP machine immediately after your sleep study, or they can refer you to a local durable medical equipment (DME) supplier that sells or rents them. They'll also fit you for a mask and show you how the whole system works together.
Insurance usually covers or reimburses the cost of the machines, and several online retailers have discounted prices. (Make sure you're ordering from a legitimate site; any retailer that doesn't require a prescription may not be distributing CPAPs legally.)
When Matt Hanover, 44, received his prescription for a CPAP, he felt pressured into taking home the machine that had been used for his sleep study that very same day. "The clinic basically told me I had to buy it from them, even though I still wasn't comfortable with the idea of wearing a mask at night and my insurance didn't cover the whole thing," says Hanover, a digital media producer in Santa Monica, Calif. "I didn't realize that I had other, cheaper options."
Hanover never got used to the CPAP machine and eventually gave up altogether, but he couldn't get any money back from the sleep clinic. To avoid getting stuck, be sure to ask potential retailers if they grant a trial period for equipment and whether it can be returned if it's not a good fit.
Choosing a mask 
Once your doctor finds the right air pressure level for your CPAP, the next step is finding a breathing device that fits well and is comfortable enough to wear through the night. There are four main types of CPAP masks, all secured by straps around the forehead and/or chin, with flexible foam or gel cushioning:
• Nasal pillows, or tiny tubes that fit directly into the nostrils
• Nasal masks, which form a seal directly around the nose
• Full-face masks, which cover the nose and mouth
• Oral masks, which are attached between the lips and gums