Positive Airway Pressure Therapy (PAP)

Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is a generic term applied to all sleep apnea treatments that use a stream of compressed air to support the airway during sleep. With PAP therapy, you wear a mask during sleep. A portable machine gently blows pressurized room air from into your upper airway through a tube connected to the mask. This positive airflow helps keep the airway open, preventing the collapse that occurs during apnea, thus allowing normal breathing. For optimal improvement, it’s important to use your PAP machine every time you sleep – including naps.

Overall PAP therapy is a safe and effective treatment, however there are a few counter-indications. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have bullous lung disease, pneumothorax, cerebrospinal fluid leak or severe epistaxis (nosebleeds).

Types of PAP Therapy

There are several forms of positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy other than CPAP. All forms of PAP therapy keep your airway open as you sleep by providing a stream of air through a mask that you wear:


Autotitrating positive airway pressure (APAP) therapy automatically raises or lowers your air pressure as needed during the night.


Bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) devices have two alternating levels of pressure. When you breathe in air, the pressure rises. The pressure decreases as you breathe out. If you have a problem with CPAP or APAP, your sleep doctor may recommend BPAP. Your doctor also may recommend using BPAP if you have sleep apnea along with another breathing disorder.

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Types of Masks

There are three common types of CPAP masks. No matter what type of mask you use, it is important that it fits well and is comfortable.

Nasal Mask

This mask only covers your nose. This is the most common type of CPAP mask.

Full Face Mask

This mask covers both your nose and your mouth. This type of mask may help if you have air leaks when using a nasal mask.

Nasal Pillows

This mask uses soft silicone tubes that fit directly in your nose. This may help if you have air leaks or don’t like the feeling of a mask over your nose and face.

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