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CPAP for Pulmonary Edema

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP treatment, is recognized as being one of the best forms of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea -- but this may not be its only application.

CPAP devices work by delivering a constant stream of pressurized air to the nose and/or mouth during sleep and the pressure forces the airway to remain open. 

CPAP therapy is of tremendous benefit to those with OSA -- but it now appears that it can also benefit people with other conditions that impact normal breathing. 

One group of people who may also benefit from PAP therapy are those suffering from pulmonary edema.

What is Pulmonary Edema?

In many cases, pulmonary edema is linked to issues with the heart. The condition is a result of fluid building up in the lungs which then collects in the lung's air sacs and this can lead to difficulty in breathing. 

The condition will usually take time to become evident but, on rare occasions, it can happen almost immediately due to various reasons including exposure to toxins, certain medications or chest trauma.

Left untreated the condition can negatively impact on physical health, quality of life and even become life-threatening. Because it adversely affects normal breathing, the treatments prescribed will usually include medication and an increased supply of oxygen.


There are two types of pulmonary edema, each with differing symptoms although there is some overlap: Sudden (acute) and Long-Term (Chronic).

Sudden or Acute

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing (dyspnea) that may worsen during exercise or when laying down
  • Sensation of drowning or suffocating while lying down
  • Coughing resulting in a frothy sputum (sometimes containing blood)
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Wheezing
  • Gasping for breath


  • Sleeping disturbed by coughing or breathlessness
  • Breathing difficulty when active or lying prone
  • Unexpected tiredness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Sudden or worsening fits of coughing
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Swollen feet and/or legs

As can be seen, there are some symptoms common to both forms of the condition and these are connected to breathing and breathlessness. Clearly some assistance in helping the patient to breathe more easily while resting or during sleep would be beneficial and this is where CPAP treatment can play a role.

Benefits of PAP Treatment

Positive air pressure therapy has been used by patients with a variety of physical and medical conditions that adversely affect breathing including emphysema and asthma. 

Although there has been some success with different conditions, the patients that have responded best are those suffering with pulmonary edema.

This is particularly true for those patients with only moderate respiratory problems and those suddenly afflicted with the acute variety of pulmonary edema. 

Across the United States, hospital emergency departments and medical emergency responders now regularly use CPAP or BiPAP treatment on patients experiencing breathlessness or difficulty in breathing. Such patients are often treated using PAP devices in the field before being admitted to hospital and placed on PAP treatment.

The results to date have been positive and show that there was a marked reduction in the need for these patients to be intubated or placed on ventilation machines. Additionally, the mortality rate also declined significantly.

While studies are far from complete, the early indications are that administering CPAP treatment to patients suffering from breathing problems has proven effective in most cases.


Treatments for pulmonary edema will usually involve the administration of additional oxygen along with the use of diuretics to reduce the build-up of fluids in the body. However, the condition can be controlled and its effects somewhat minimized by:

  • Reducing the intake of salt
  • Maintaining a low cholesterol level
  • Quitting smoking and the use of tobacco products
  • Controlling blood pressure

Following a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly will also be of benefit and should be standard for everyone regardless of any physical complaint they may have.

While a PAP device may be of benefit this is something that should be discussed with a doctor before proceeding. 

PAP therapy is not specifically designed to combat or control pulmonary edema but can be beneficial in some cases. 

Should a doctor decide that PAP therapy is a good fit, then choosing the correct type of PAP device is the next critical step and this should be done with the guidance of a qualified sleep specialist and the device purchased only through a reputable company.



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