Image: What happens if your CPAP pressure is too high

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you may have been advised by your doctor to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

At first, however, new users may find it difficult to get used to wearing the device. And one factor that may hinder users to commit to their CPAP machine is having the wrong air pressure.

If you want to get the most out of your CPAP therapy, finding the right air pressure level is a good starting point.

This article will help you figure out if you need to set an appointment with your sleep doctor to have your CPAP pressure setting adjusted and will also explore the potential side effects of having too much air pressure in your equipment.

What is the Ideal CPAP Pressure Level?

Each person is different, so no single air pressure setting is bound to be effective for everyone.

The average CPAP machine can, however, adjust anywhere between 4 and 20 centimeters of water pressure (cmH2O), with an average of 10 cmH20.

Meanwhile, the most common pressure levels for treating OSA may range from 6 to 15 cmH2O. In some cases, patients may require a higher or lower pressure setting than these ranges.

For instance, in patients with Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), a setting that’s lower than four may be required. Some people who are struggling to exhale while using a CPAP machine also have an option to switch to a BiPAP device, which delivers air at two different pressures: one for inhalation and the other one for exhalation.

But did you know that certain types of these devices have been pulled from the market very recently?

In fact:

People who used the recalled Philips CPAP devices are now filing a CPAP lawsuit. Recently filed complaints allege that Philips, the manufacturer of the recalled devices, did not adequately warn the public of the potential side effect of foam inhalation due to the degradation of the sound abatement foam component in the machines.

Patients may inhale or ingest these chemicals, potentially causing toxic effects, lung injuries, respiratory problems, and even carcinogenic effects.

In this case, however, there are only limited options available for treatment for sleep apnea sufferers. Talk to your health care provider if you have used one of the recalled devices from Philips’ first-generation DreamStation product family, and for possible alternative treatment options best suited for you.

How to Tell if Your CPAP Machine is Set Too High

A high level of air pressure in one’s CPAP mask, nose, mouth, and airways can cause immense discomfort for a sleep apnea patient.

Some signs that you are experiencing problems from too much air coming from your CPAP equipment are:

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • having poor quality of sleep
  • still feeling tired after waking up
  • waking up repeatedly through the night

In general, not having the right pressure setting is almost similar to not having CPAP therapy at all. This is because a high CPAP pressure can render your treatment ineffective.

And an ineffective sleep apnea treatment means that you’ll experience the same problems you were having before you started your CPAP therapy. These include loud snoring, difficulty breathing while you’re asleep, and daytime sleepiness.

Needless to say, if you are experiencing these things which your CPAP device is supposed to treat, then it’s defeating its own purpose. It might be the right time to set an appointment with your sleep physician and apply adjustments to your CPAP setting.

Side Effects of a High CPAP Pressure

Is there such thing as too much CPAP pressure?

As it turns out, there is. And the discomfort from excessive air pressure from your CPAP mask can potentially cause some side effects, including:

  • aerophagia, a condition that involves excessive air swallowing
  • dry mouth and throat, even with CPAP humidification
  • noticeable air leaks through your mask
  • fluid leaking from the ears
  • burning sensation in the nose and throat
  • breathing through the mouth
  • still feeling tired

Aside from the listed symptoms above, experts also worry that a CPAP machine that is set too high may potentially lead to pressure-induced central sleep apnea (CSA).

CSA is a sleep disorder defined by pauses in breathing due to a lack of proper signals the brain is supposed to send to the muscles that control one’s breathing.

Factors that Affect Personalized Pressure Settings

I think we can all agree:

There can only be good quality of sleep when your pressure settings are fine-tuned by a board-certified sleep doctor for your specific condition.

And while some may be tempted into thinking that the severity of their sleep apnea determines the required setting for their CPAP machine, this is not always the case.

In fact:

Your personalized pressure settings can be determined through multiple factors, including:

  • age
  • gender
  • weight
  • sleeping position
  • environmental factors

What Should My CPAP Pressure Be?

The answer to this question should only come from your sleep doctor. It is not the job of a CPAP user to guess what level of pressure they need for their sleep apnea treatment.

Similarly, inadequate air pressure from your CPAP equipment may also lead to ineffective therapy. With not enough pressure to keep your airways open, you may still experience sleep apnea-related adverse effects such as poor quality of sleep, chronic fatigue, feeling air-starved, and high blood pressure, among others.

If you feel like your CPAP pressure needs adjustment or if you are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, it’s best to consult your doctor. It is important to have your device properly set by a sleep physician to ensure safety and proper treatment.

The Bottom Line

If your sleep apnea symptoms do not stop, you may need to be seen again by your sleep doctor to make changes to the settings.

Needless to say, it is not advisable for patients to make adjustments to the CPAP pressure themselves, as incorrect pressure settings may lead to worse quality of sleep and ineffective treatment, which can ultimately cause more problems in the long run.

Ensuring that your condition is adequately treated by your specialized pressure settings is an important part of managing your sleep apnea and making sure that you are getting the best benefits out of your therapy.

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