Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is prescribed by health providers to treat and manage the sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea. This is the more common form of sleep apnea, characterized by frequent pauses in breathing when sleeping.
Sleep deprivation can severely impact your overall health and quality of life. Poor sleep may result from different reasons, including disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia.
If someone is not receiving adequate sleep, they may be tempted to try CPAP given its success in treating sleep apnea. Therefore, they may well ask, is it dangerous to use a CPAP without sleep apnea?
What IS CPAP?
CPAP therapy delivers pressurized air to keep your airways clear from obstruction while you sleep. If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, the upper airways narrow as the throat muscles relax during sleep. The resulting drop in oxygen levels reaching the lungs is detected by the brain, which in turn wakes the body for air.
These interruptions to sleep for air can happen multiple times every hour. Without treatment, sleep apnea increases the risk of serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The therapy involves a device to deliver pressurized air along tubing to a mask worn overnight – and this helps keep upper airways open.
Is It Dangerous to Use a CPAP Without Sleep Apnea?
Yes, it is potentially dangerous and is not a recommended solution for your sleeping problems unless prescribed by your doctor to treat sleep apnea.
If you are having difficulties sleeping, including snoring, you should consult with your doctor to discover the underlying cause. Once the true reasons for your sleep difficulties are determined, the appropriate treatment can be recommended.
Using CPAP without sleep apnea would not be effective -- and in the worst-case scenario, it could be a dangerous route to take. The therapy is used to treat sleep apnea specifically because the delivery of pressurized air targets the cause of the disorder, and helps treat it by preventing an obstruction of the airways. This allows you nights of uninterrupted sleep.
The air is pressurized to a setting that will keep the airways open and can be quite high. This setting is key to the success of the treatment and therefore is a major reason why this treatment should not be considered without a diagnosis of sleep apnea. Otherwise, the risks include:
- Problems breathing when sleeping
- Further disruption to the quality of your sleep
- Risk from infection
- Discomfort or air leaks from the mask worn as you sleep.
Inhaling and exhaling pressurized air can make compliance with the treatment difficult for some people. Adjusting to wearing a mask, whether a nasal, nasal pillow, or full-face mask, can also be difficult.
Therefore, you will want to have received a diagnosis of sleep apnea and prescribed a PAP device by a sleep specialist before looking to adapt to the demands of the treatment.
Otherwise, you will be making potentially demanding adjustments to your sleeping arrangements for no effective reason. The device can be expensive too and not covered by health insurance without a proper diagnosis.
Another factor to consider is that by looking to use a treatment recommended for sleep apnea without a diagnosis of that disorder, you will be prolonging the diagnosis and treatment for the true cause behind your sleep issues.
This delay could lead to further sleep deprivation, increasing your risk of health issues as well as traffic or workplace accidents from excessive daytime fatigue.
Is It Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated once diagnosed. This is why diagnosis is so vital. Therefore, recognizing the symptoms is key. These include:
- frequently waking at night, sometimes gasping for air
- loud snoring
- daytime fatigue
- morning headaches
- dry mouth in the morning
- poor concentration
- mood swings
If you suspect your poor sleep quality may be due to sleep apnea, you should consult with your health provider at the earliest opportunity. They can arrange for a sleep test or study to help diagnose the disorder.x
An at-home test can be used to help diagnose sleep apnea. Your health provider may also recommend an overnight stay at a sleep clinic where your sleep is monitored by sleep specialists.
As well as diagnosing sleep apnea, a sleep study determines the severity of the disorder. This can range from mild to severe depending on how many cessations to breathing you experience each hour. These are called apneas, and if you suffer more than 30 apneas every hour, your sleep apnea will be classed as severe.
CPAP is a leading treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. The pressure of the air delivered by the device needs to keep the upper airways from collapsing. However, not everyone can cope with the steady stream of air delivered at a constant pressure setting.
In these cases, other PAP devices may be recommended. One of these is BiPAP, which stands for Bi-level positive airway pressure. This PAP device adjusts the air pressure settings for inhalation and exhalation. The pressure is lower when exhaling.
The key is to consult with your sleep specialist to deliver a treatment course that works for you. Adhering to treatment to manage sleep apnea is crucial. Non-compliance for reasons of discomfort can soon see your sleep apnea symptoms return, returning you to disrupted sleep and increasing the risk of the health conditions linked to sleep apnea.
Sleep is a vital restorative tool. A sleep disorder such as sleep apnea can severely impact the quality of your sleep. However, once diagnosed it can be treated. CPAP is one of the leading treatments for obstructive sleep apnea but it should not be used without a prescription from your health provider.
Instead, you should consult your health provider to find the underlying reasons behind your poor sleep, who can then recommend the most suitable treatment plan to have you sleeping well once more.