A Bilevel or Continuous Positive Airway machine is most notable for treating sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing during sleep stops momentarily before resuming again. This can cause minor complications such as headaches, irritability, sore throat, and tiredness throughout the day, but can also lead to more severe health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
BiPAP and CPAP machines are also used to treat COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which is inflammation of the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe. Unlike other breathing issues, COPD destroys the lung tissue and gets worse over time.
Some individuals are unable to use a CPAP machine. Because it is a continuous airway machine, air is delivered at the same pressure the entire time the machine is on, which can make it harder to exhale. For this reason, some people choose the BiPAP machine instead. However, both machines aren’t always comfortable to sleep in.
Another reason to look into alternative treatments is due to the fact that several CPAP and BiPAP machines were recalled in recent years. These defective machines were found to release formaldehyde and other human carcinogens, which are known to cause cancer.
The main cause of sleep apnea (specifically, obstructive sleep apnea) is being overweight. Consuming a nutritious diet and exercising regularly may help with this type of sleep apnea. Smokers are also likely to develop sleep apnea, so quitting or never starting is a good idea. Also, alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilizers relax the throat muscles, making sleep apnea more likely to develop.
Other times, obstructive sleep apnea is caused by anatomical issues, such as narrowed airways or a deviated septum. In these cases, certain surgeries may be necessary. Some surgical options for sleep apnea include:
- Mandibular maxillomandibular advancement surgery to correct the facial or throat structures that contribute to sleep apnea.
- Nasal surgery to correct a deviated septum.
- Somnoplasty to shrink and stiffen soft palate tissue, which if it’s too large it blocks the airways.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) completely removes the soft palate tissue from the throat, widening the airways.
Some people with sleep apnea use oral devices to keep their airways open while they sleep. These devices are custom-made by dentists who specialize in this area. Another option is called upper airway stimulation (UAS), where a tiny pulse generator is implanted in the skin on the upper chest. Wires are used to record your natural breathing pattern and to send signals to the muscles in the airways.
Because BiPAP and CPAP machines are standard treatments for COPD, there are a variety of other treatment options. Those with a milder form of COPD can manage their symptoms just by quitting smoking, and may not need any other type of treatment after quitting. On the other hand, more severe forms of COPD will need more treatment.
Bronchodilators are muscle-relaxing medications that come in inhalers. This type of treatment makes breathing easier and comes in both short-acting and long-acting forms. Examples of bronchodilators include:
- Albuterol (short)
- Ipratropium (short)
- Levalbuterol (short)
- Salmeterol (long)
- Tiotropium (long)
- Umeclidinium (long)
Sometimes more than one bronchodilator is used in an inhaler, and this is called a combination inhaler. An example of a combination inhaler is albuterol and ipratropium.
Oxygen therapy is another common treatment for people with COPD. This is typically only used if your blood isn’t getting enough oxygen. Some people may only need this therapy at certain times, whereas others may need to carry a small, portable oxygen tank with them at all times. Either way, oxygen therapy is the only proven COPD therapy that extends the life of the patient.
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs combine a variety of different lifestyle approaches to help the individual make lifestyle changes. These specialized programs combine counseling, education, exercise, and nutrition to help improve quality of life.
Inhaled corticosteroids are also popular ways to treat COPD, especially for those who have frequent exacerbations. Oral steroids can also be used, usually for those who experience more acute exacerbations.
Lung volume reduction surgery removes the damaged lung tissue, making it easier to breathe. In more severe cases, a lung transplant may be necessary.
If you’re using a CPAP or BiPAP machine for sleep apnea, COPD, or other reasons, talk to your doctors about the recall and alternative treatments. Your doctor can help you determine the best treatment options for you.