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  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a therapy that relieves upper airway obstruction (blockage) during sleep. It involves delivering normal air to your child's airway at a set pressure, which keeps the airway open and prevents airway obstruction.

    CPAP is most commonly used in newborns with breathing difficulties, but is also used to treat severe obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and other airway disorders. This fact sheet focuses on its use as a treatment for OSA.

    The air is given to your child through a mask attached to an electrically powered machine called a CPAP driver. The mask may cover the whole face, the nose and mouth or just the nose, or it might simply consist of prongs into the nostrils. It is held in place by a little cap (headgear) or straps.

    Why does my child need CPAP?

    If your child has OSA they may benefit from CPAP. OSA is a medical condition that causes breathing difficulties during sleep, caused by partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway. Symptoms include snoring, pauses in breathing or difficulty breathing, restless sleep and daytime tiredness. OSA can impact on your child's health and development, and may lead to growth, learning or behavioural problems.

    CPAP prevents upper airway obstruction and helps control OSA. Benefits may include:

    • reduced disruption to sleep
    • improved sleep quality
    • snoring is reduced or stopped
    • reduced daytime sleepiness
    • reduced headaches caused by OSA.

    Getting started on CPAP 

    Your child will come to hospital to have a mask fitting. Once they are comfortable wearing the mask during sleep, an overnight polysomnography (a sleep study) is arranged to check the optimal CPAP pressure for your child.

    Before the sleep study, wires will be attached to your child's skin to measure their sleep and breathing patterns. Staff will make sure that the mask fits comfortably (and will also teach parents or caregivers how to fit the mask) and monitor how well it is tolerated throughout the night.

    Using CPAP at home

    Many parents are unsure if their child will cope with the mask. However, once home, most children do tolerate CPAP well, as they find it gives them relief from their OSA symptoms. Many children adjust very quickly and begin wearing the mask all night long quite soon, while others may take a few days, weeks or months.

    For the greatest benefit, CPAP should be used all night, every night. However, it may take some time before your child can manage this. If they won't wear it all night, keep encouraging your child to use the CPAP for as much of the night as possible.

    Follow-up 

    • Your child will need to be reviewed by their respiratory specialist at regular intervals – usually every three to six months.
    • At each of these appointments, it's important to bring all the CPAP equipment (including the machine and mask) so staff can check it still fits your child properly and perform some regular maintenance.
    • The SD card from the CPAP machine will be downloaded each time your child is reviewed so the doctor can monitor your child's progress.
    • For those on long-term CPAP, annual follow-up sleep studies are recommended. As your child grows, the annual follow-up will ensure the pressure from the CPAP machine is still correct. 
    • Contact your treating hospital if you have concerns or questions about your child's treatment.

    Key points to remember 

    • CPAP involves giving normal air from the room at a set pressure through a mask.
    • Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a medical condition that causes breathing difficulties during sleep.
    • CPAP prevents airway obstruction and controls OSA.
    • CPAP should be used all night, every night for the greatest benefit.
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