When reading about CPAP machines or speaking with your doctor about them, you may have noticed that there are a variety of types that are used to treat sleep apnea. These generally include:
- CPAP machines
- Auto CPAP machines (also known as APAP machines)
- BiPAP machines
- Travel CPAP machines
Let’s take a closer look at each of these varieties to help you decide what might be best for you. After you figure out what fits your needs and preferences the best, take this information to your doctor—whether it’s your first time seeking CPAP treatment or you’re looking to upgrade your current CPAP (which should be done about every 5 years or so).
Note: A prescription from a physician is required to purchase a CPAP machine, and the prescription should be dated from within the last year.
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It provides a continuous and constant airflow at a fixed pressure setting to prevent the airways from collapsing.
One of the biggest adjustments to using a CPAP is exhaling while receiving the continuous airflow from the CPAP machine. Most CPAP machines are manufactured with a different setting that senses and reduces the air pressure when the user is exhaling (Philips Respironics calls this setting CFLEX, AFLEX, or BiFLEX, Resmed calls it expiratory pressure relief [EPR], and Fisher and Paykel calls is SensAwakeTM).
However, CPAP users will likely find that the CPAP pressure setting and/or the setting for exhalation (eg., EPR) changes throughout treatment. Factors that cause changes in pressure needs include:
- Sleeping position
- Nasal conditions or seasonal allergies
- Alcohol use
- Use of sedatives
- Use of cold/flu medications
Therefore, users will have to pay attention to when their current settings no longer work for them and have the settings adjusted.
CPAP machines are generally prescribed first because they cost less and typically work well with most individuals.
Auto CPAP/APAP machines
Auto CPAP machines use automatic positive airway pressure (APAP). They are automatic in that they are constantly titrating (or measuring and adjusting) the air pressure produced by the machine.
This provides a great solution to the issue with CPAP machines outlined above, as they are manufactured with technology that continuously senses the air pressure and adjusts it based on the user’s inhalation needs.
APAP machines are set within a low and high pressure range that is determined and prescribed by your physician.
Given the added benefit of automatic airway pressure adjustment, Auto CPAP machines are typically a bit more costly compared to CPAP machines.
BiPAP machines generate two different types of airflow—one for inhalation and one for exhalation. It allows you to control the pressure when the user inhales (IPAP) and when the user exhales (EPAP) to help facilitate breathing.
BiPAP machines are generally the most expensive and typically given to individuals who have specific needs (for example, it is often used for patients who have central sleep apnea or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] or Parkinson’s disease).
Travel CPAP machines
Travel CPAP machines are smaller and lighter than the typical CPAP machines, making them portable and great for traveling, camping, overnight flights, etc.
They are just as effective as their larger, standard counterparts and provide just as much power and air pressure.
In addition to being light and compact, some travel CPAP machines are battery operated. This is convenient if you’re backpacking or camping without a power source or on an overnight flight.
Travel CPAP machines also make great options for backup machines, in case your current CPAP machine breaks. Additionally, the battery-operated ones are good to have handy in case of a power outage.
This is an excellent comparison chart (scroll to the bottom) that compares some of the best travel CPAP machines and outlines their different features.
- CPAP. Sleepapnea.org. American Sleep Apnea Association. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/choosing-a-pap-machine/difference-between-cpap-auto-cpap-bilevel/. Accessed September 2020.