A CPAP machine helps those who suffer from sleep apnea obtain relief from that sleep disorder. It uses pressurized air to hold open airways that would otherwise be blocked.
Obstructed airways cause sleep apnea. While there are several possible reasons for the obstruction, the result is always the same: disrupted sleep patterns, as well as reduced oxygen to the heart and brain. Pressurized air from the CPAP effectively puts an end to all that.
Of course, given the current covid-19 outbreak, many are wondering whether a CPAP machine can be repurposed as a ventilator. And the answer is that yes, it is possible to use a CPAP machine for that purpose. We’ll delve into that a bit deeper in the FAQ section at the bottom. But first, here are our choices for the best CPAP machines of 2021.
1. DeVilbiss IntelliPAP CPAP Machine
The IntelliPAP from DeVilbiss is quiet and reliable and comes with a humidifier that can be connected or disconnected at will. The unit is stable, the controls intuitive, and at 26 decibels it won’t keep anyone else in the room awake all night.
What we like: We like the logical control panel. We appreciate the build quality and the large water tank. The unit is also quiet, even with the humidifier engaged. It also compensates for altitude and has a ramp time of 45 minutes.
Flaws: Having the tube extend from the back of the unit looks good but is kind of impractical.
2. Philips DreamStation Go
The DreamStation Go is what a portable CPAP machine should be. Easy to use, compact, reliable, and light. Where some CPAP machines feel like they’ve been cobbled together from leftover VCRs, the DreamStation Go is 21st century tech.
What we like: The DreamStation Go CPAP machine is built to last. We like the USB charging port, the integrated power supply, the full-color touchscreen, and the light, flexible tube. It also comes with its own nifty carrying case.
Flaws: Would be at the top of our list if not for the price.
3. Philips DreamStation Auto
This is one of the most popular CPAP machines on the market. It’s compact, full-featured has an integrated humidifier auto-adjusts. It’s light too, which makes it one of the few humidifier units that can realistically be called a travel unit.
What we like: We appreciate the compact convenience of the machine: the modest weight and well-considered design. The screen is large and bright and easy to navigate using the control wheel. And it all packs away neatly into the carrying case.
Flaws: Learning the ins and outs of the machine can take some time. The menu icons are small.
4. ResMed AirMini
If you’re looking for a highly portable, high-quality CPAP machine that won’t let you down on the road, consider the ResMed AirMini. It features auto-adjusting pressure, Bluetooth connectivity, and exhalation relief for smooth breathing.
What we like: We like how small the unit is. It’s not going to take over the bed. Also, it’s light and easy to manipulate. We also appreciate the waterless humidification and that it syncs with the ResMed app. It’s FAA approved as well.
Flaws: Not the quietest CPAP machine you’ll find. And it’s not widely compatible with different masks.
5. Apex Medical XT Fit
The Apex XT Fit is very simple and effective. There’s no adjusting the pressure, so no need for a complicated menu system. But it can’t be synced, and can’t record data. It can and does, however, provide moist, pressurized air without wavering.
What we like: We like that you have the option to include the humidifier or not. We appreciate that the display screen is easy to understand, and that the machine ramps up in 5-minute intervals. It also comes with a 6-foot hose and two-year warranty.
Flaws: While it’s often touted as a travel CPAP machine, it’s probably too bulky for that. That is, unless ‘travel’ means traveling in an RV.
6. Resmart Auto Bi-Level CPAP Machine
What sets the Resmart Auto Bi-Level CPAP Machine apart from the competition is that it provides different pressures for inhalation and exhalation. That enables a much more natural breath cycle while keeping your air passages open.
What we like: The auto-adjusting pressure levels work like a charm. The heated humidifier prevents both nose and throat from drying out. And the fold-away handle on the top makes moving the device around easy as pie.
Flaws: Too large to travel with easily. And at 30 decibels it’s one of the louder machines on our list.
7. Transcend 365 Mini CPAP
What happens if you get to your hotel room in Prague and the outlets don’t match your CPAP machine? If you have the Transcend 365 Mini, what happens is turn it on. That’s because this is the world’s only battery-powered portable CPAP machine.
What we like: We appreciate the high build quality of the unit. We like the clean design and lack of superfluous bells and whistles. The integrated battery management system does a good job of conserving energy. And it doesn’t use gallons of water.
Flaws: Not widely available. It’s also fairly noisy at nearly 30 dB, and it’s expensive for such a small unit.
8. ResMed AirSense 10 CPAP Machine
In contrast to the company’s AirStart 10, the ResMed AirSense 10 features automatic pressure adjustment and incremental pressure ramping. Save your sleep data to an SD card and review it later using the smartphone app.
What we like: The design is very efficient and effective. The auto-adjusting pressure is reliable and accurate. The humidifier is large enough to keep going for hours but not so large as to make the unit clumsy. And the control panel is reasonably intuitive.
Flaws: The hose could be longer, and the app is nothing to write home about. The LCD screen also seems a bit outdated.
9. ResMed AirStart 10
The AirStart 10 is one of the simpler devices on our list. The pressure is fixed, so setup and operation are quick and easy. And that will be fine with a lot of people. Just make sure one of those people is your doctor.
What we like: We appreciate the integrated humidifier that automatically adjusts to prevent drying out your airways. Also, you don’t need to be an engineer to set it up. Operation is simple (some would say ‘basic’). And it’s reasonably priced.
Flaws: Don’t judge a book by its cover because while it’s reliable and effective, it looks cheap and outdated.
10. SleepStyle Auto CPAP Machine
This is one of our favorite looking CPAP machines. Not that looks are everything. But the sleek minimalist design indicates this isn’t just repurposed tech given a paint job and a new name. It was built new from the ground up, and it shows.
What we like: We appreciate the control panel which is contemporary, well-considered and easy to use. We like the generous water reservoir, the reliable Bluetooth connectivity, and the relatively quiet 28-decibel operation.
Flaws: Curiously, the app itself isn’t really up to 2020 tech standards. And while it includes a nice carry bag you can’t really call it a ‘travel’ machine.
Who Needs a CPAP Machine?
The CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine is the most effective treatment yet devised for dealing with sleep apnea. Recent estimates are that as many as a billion people suffer some degree of sleep apnea (1). And that sleep apnea is just the tip of a larger systemic iceberg within the sufferer. That means a billion people may also be suffering from comorbidities, including high blood pressure, reduced insulin sensitivity, and more. All of these people would likely benefit from a CPAP machine.
Also, those who have contracted the coronavirus and whose pathology has devolved into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) may benefit from using the CPAP machine as a ventilator. The FDA has endorsed this repurposing. As a result, it is being put into practice worldwide. As the covid-19 crisis unfolds, the once little known CPAP machine may wind up playing a central role in the survival of countless individuals.
How We Ranked
All CPAP machines utilize the same group of components, and so sizing them up is not as complicated a matter as it may seem.
When inspecting the various CPAP machines, our first area of concern was the airflow generator. Since the effectiveness of the entire machine depends on this core component. It should be able to produce a smooth, steady stream of pressurized air with no interruptions or glitches and should switch easily from setting to setting. If the machine offers automatic adjustment that must be dependable, swift, and accurate.
The face mask is the delivery system for the pressurized air. If it doesn’t do its job, the facility of the airflow generator won’t matter much. So each device that made our list had to include a face mask – regardless of its form – that stayed in place with minimal fuss and wasn’t overtly uncomfortable.
If the device had an integrated humidifier it must do a good job delivering moist, agreeable air and be easily adjustable. Also, the water tank should not spill water all over the place if you need to move the machine for some reason. The device, even with the humidifier running, should also be quiet enough not to interfere with sleep. Otherwise, what’s the point? Air filters should also be effective and easily cleanable or replaceable by non-engineers.
When it came to travel CPAP units we looked for ones that are compact, light, and reliable. It helped if they also came with a handy carrying case of their own.
A CPAP machine is effective. A CPAP machine is, first and foremost, a machine designed to treat sleep apnea (2). And for that purpose, it has a proven record of success. While it is not a cure for sleep apnea, it can nonetheless provide effective, affordable, safe relief from the most odious effects of this vexing condition. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you should consider getting a CPAP machine.
A CPAP machine can be used as a ventilator. On March 24, 2020 the FDA approved an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) stating that alternative breathing devices – including positive pressure breathing devices such as CPAP machines – can be used as ventilators to help those afflicted with the worst respiratory effects of covid-19 (3). Those who doubt a CPAP machine can be repurposed as a ventilator should read the FDA EUA.
A CPAP machine can help you weather the coronavirus. One of the most troubling aspects of the coronavirus is the tendency for it to morph into what is known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS (4). It is actually this condition, and not the virus itself, which has been responsible for most covid-19 related deaths. A CPAP machine can help those afflicted with ARDS weather the storm. The FDA, as we’ve seen, has approved them for just that purpose.
A CPAP machine is easy to use. CPAP machines may seem like something only a highly trained nurse or hospital technician could operate. But commercially available CPAP machines have been refined so that anyone can easily operate them. In most cases, all you need to do is follow a series of menu prompts. Whether you’re using it to treat sleep apnea or ARDS/covid-19, you’ll find the CPAP machine easy to use.
CPAP machines often have built-in humidifiers. Many of the best CPAP machines have built-in humidifiers. That is important because if the air from the CPAP is too dry it can aggravate other sleep issues, leave you with a sore throat and may cause you to start breathing through your mouth while you sleep (5). Warm, moist air from the CPAP machine makes the entire act of drawing a full, satisfying breath that much easier.
A CPAP machine can be set to adjust to your needs automatically. Not all CPAP machines offer automatic adjustment. But you will often find it on the more expensive units. This type of unit monitors your breathing patterns and then, when necessary, automatically adjusts air pressure to compensate. As a result, your air passages remain open while you sleep.
CPAP machines can go where you go. There is a whole sub-category of CPAP machines designed for travel. Typically, they don’t have integrated humidifiers because that would add to both size and weight. Nonetheless, the portable CPAP machine will help ensure that no matter where you are in the world, sleep apnea won’t get the better of you. These compact, lightweight units are approved by the FAA to be transported in carry on bags (6).
A CPAP machine can capture sleep data. Not only that, but they can share it with their own proprietary app or with various 3rd party fitness apps. There are any number of health and wellness apps floating about that propose to help you do everything from diet more effectively to sleep better. What they require to work, however, is accurate data. Some CPAP machines can sync to these apps via a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone.
A CPAP machine may result in healthier skin. One of the less-discussed side effects of sleep apnea is the tendency of some sufferers to develop skin problems over time (7). As such, it only stands to reason that effectively treating sleep apnea with a CPAP machine would reduce this risk. And in some cases eliminate it. So if you’re anxious to preserve your smooth, supple skin, a CPAP machine may help.
A CPAP machine is good for your heart. The cardiovascular system requires a steady, predictable flow of blood and oxygen. But sleep apnea causes disruptions to breathing. When blood and oxygen flow is disrupted the body responds by releasing the stress hormone adrenaline (8). Repeated release of adrenaline can ultimately lead to high blood pressure. While insufficient oxygen supply to the heart can cause a heart attack (9).
A CPAP machine is available from multiple sources. In the not-too-distant past, you would have to search high and low to find a machine like this. Chances are you would have had to go to a company that supplied high-end equipment to hospitals and clinics. And you would have wound up paying through the nose. That is, if they would sell it to you. Today, you can obtain a CPAP machine from numerous brick and mortar and online retailers.
A CPAP machine can help you get your mojo back. And, unfortunately, you may need to get it back. Because sleep apnea has been linked to both reduced libido and erectile dysfunction in men (10)(11). A CPAP machine can help restore deep, restful sleep. That, in turn, should help restore your normal, vibrant sex drive. And ensure you’re able to rise to the occasion when the situation calls for it.
A CPAP machine can save on other medical expenses. No, a CPAP machine is not a medical savings account. Nor does it entitle you to discounts on office visits and the like. But what it will do is enable you to get a good night’s sleep, night after night. That will pay handsome health benefits which will reduce the chances of you developing a host of fatigue-related ailments. Better health. Fewer visits to the doctor. More money in your pocket.
A CPAP machine can help stabilize blood sugars. Besides affecting your cardiovascular system and wreaking havoc with your sex life, sleep apnea has also been linked with type II diabetes. It seems sleep apnea contributes to insulin resistance (12), a major causative factor in the development of type II diabetes. Obtaining effective treatment for your sleep apnea by way of a CPAP machine can help normalize blood sugars and fend off diabetes.
A CPAP machine can reduce the risk of stroke. Researchers have discovered that sleep apnea is just as big a risk factor for stroke as high blood pressure or smoking (13). It’s not a pretty picture. But it’s not a situation that has to end badly. A CPAP machine can prevent sleep apnea from raising your risk for stroke. And as a result, possibly add years to your life.
A CPAP machine may help prevent hearing loss. If you’re starting to get the impression that sleep apnea is an all-purpose health hazard, you’re right. Research also indicates a link between sleep apnea and hearing loss (14). The exact mechanism by which sleep apnea affects hearing is not fully understood. But it’s believed to be associated with inflammation. Treating your sleep apnea with a CPAP machine may actually save your hearing.
A CPAP machine will help you be more productive. There can be little doubt that people who get a good night’s sleep think clearer, are more alert and are more lucid in general than those who suffer from fitful sleep. But sleep apnea does more than make you a bit drowsy during the day. Oxygen deprivation due to sleep apnea may actually damage brain cells. Fortunately, research indicates that the kind of brain damage sleep apnea causes can in fact be reversed by regular use of a CPAP machine (15).
A CPAP machine can reduce your risk of depression. Research now indicates a link between sleep apnea and depression (16). This further bolsters the argument that sleep apnea is part of a larger, systemic problem. If the condition only contributed to depression you might say it was a stand-alone condition. But with so many maladies now linked with sleep apnea, the evidence is strong that it is only the tip of a systemic iceberg.
A CPAP machine can make you a better driver. The same unsatisfying sleep that makes people less than stellar workers also makes them less than safe drivers. It is estimated that as many as 20% of all deadly road accidents are the result of driver fatigue (17). A CPAP machine can help you get the sleep you need to be a better driver. And that’s good for everyone on the road.
CPAP therapy may help lower your blood pressure. Just when you thought sleep apnea couldn’t be linked to any other conditions, we have one more for you: high blood pressure. It’s not known whether high blood pressure causes sleep apnea or sleep apnea causes high blood pressure. But it is known that as many as 70% of people with sleep apnea also have high blood pressure (18). If you suffer from both a CPAP machine can likely help.
Q: Do CPAP machines actually work?
A: Yes. CPAP machines are considered frontline technology in the battle against sleep apnea and its comorbidities. Today’s machines are the direct descendants of larger, far more involved machines that were once the exclusive domain of the hospital or clinic. By providing pressurized air to the sleep apnea sufferer while they sleep, the CPAP machine ensures their air passage stays open and that their night is uneventful.
Q: Can a CPAP machine be used as a ventilator?
A: Yes, a CPAP machine can be used as a ventilator. Several years ago emergency medical technicians began using CPAP machines for respiratory emergencies. The practice became so widespread that it is now standard operating procedure (19). With covid-19 related ARDS cases straining the ability of healthcare systems to respond, the FDA has cleared CPAP machines for use as ventilators to fill the equipment void (20).
Q: Can a CPAP machine fight the coronavirus?
A: The CPAP machine was designed to mitigate sleep apnea. However, as we’ve just seen, the machine can be put to use as an emergency ventilator. And the FDA has, in fact, issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for health professionals to do just that. However, the CPAP machine cannot and should not be expected to fight the coronavirus itself. What it can do is provide respiratory relief for those whose covid-19 symptoms have morphed into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS.
Q: Do I need a prescription for a CPAP machine?
A: This can be the cause of much confusion because prescriptions are typically required to buy the airflow generator, face mask, and, in some cases, the humidifier. That’s because the FDA classifies them as class II medical devices (21). At the same time, however, accessories such as hoses, air filters and other parts of the mechanism that are crucial to the operation of the CPAP unit can be freely purchased without a prescription.
Q: Why are prescriptions sometimes required?
A: While CPAP machines have made the leap from hospital to home, they are still considered specialty medical hardware. Prescriptions are based on medical evaluations. They determine the pressure at which to set a specific person’s machine should. The FDA does not believe in letting people find their own comfort zone. As this could lead to significant health problems should the wrong pressure be employed.
Q: How long does it take a CPAP machine to cure sleep apnea?
A: A CPAP machine is not intended nor is it capable of, curing sleep apnea. It is more akin to a hearing aid, which doesn’t cure hearing loss but instead compensates for that loss. You need to wear the hearing aid every day if you wish to hear clearly. Likewise, the CPAP machine overrides a person’s physiological tendency toward sleep apnea. But you will need to use it every night if you wish to obtain a safe, restful night’s sleep.
Q: Why do some CPAP machines have humidifiers?
A: Dry, congested nasal passages are sometimes an unfortunate side effect of using the CPAP machine. Humidifiers add moisture to the air the person is breathing, fending off dry nasal passages and preventing congestion. Most home-oriented CPAP machines have integrated humidifiers. However, to save on size and weight, most ‘travel’ CPAP machines do not include this feature.
Q: Will I still need a CPAP machine if I lose weight?
A: Since sleep apnea is often associated with obesity, people wonder if losing weight will eliminate the need for a CPAP machine. The answer is: it depends on the individual. While sleep apnea is often associated with being overweight, that is not the only possible cause. Asthma, chronic nasal congestion and genetics may also play a role in the development of sleep apnea (22). So losing weight may help. Or it may not.
Q: Can I use an adjustable bed instead of a CPAP machine?
A: Research evidence suggests that using an adjustable bed to elevate the head at night may be effective in reducing sleep apnea (23). That is certainly good news and very significant. However, if you read the study results carefully, you’ll see the adjustable bed doesn’t actually cure sleep apnea. It just reduces its frequency and severity. Those are both good things also. But you’re still likely to need a CPAP machine to achieve complete relief.
Q: Why does my CPAP mask come off while I sleep?
A: Sometimes it’s a matter of the mask being too big or too loose. Other times it’s a matter of a person freeing themselves from something that’s bothering them. People are constantly moving pillows, throwing back blankets, and even pushing away their bedmates during the night without thinking about it. The same sometimes happens with an uncomfortable CPAP mask. Without waking up, the person removes the mask and continues to sleep.
Q: Does a CPAP machine prevent snoring?
A: The extreme snoring of the sleep apnea sufferer (24) is the result of a constricted airway. Opening that airway with the CPAP machine can, in many cases, drastically reduce or even eliminate snoring. The pressurized air delivered by the machine props open the airway, preventing the tissue vibrations that produce the snoring sound. If you still snore just as loud, you should talk to your doctor. It may indicate that the pressure needs to be adjusted.
Q: How often do I need to clean the filters?
A: Anytime you notice the filters have become discolored, it’s time to clean them. Some manufacturers suggest cleaning the filters once a week. But that’s not mandatory. On the other hand, if the location is particularly dusty the filters may need to be cleaned more than once a week. And if you have disposable filters, don’t try and clean them. Simply toss them once they’ve become dirty.
Q: Why do I sometimes wake up feeling bloated?
A: If you wake up with a distended belly, it means you are swallowing air while you sleep. Due to the nature of the therapy (pressurized air), it’s no surprise that this would sometimes happen. If you find it happening often you should try sleeping in a different position, such as on your side. If that doesn’t alleviate the problem, you might want to discuss lowering the air pressure with your doctor. It may simply be a bit too strong for your physiology.
Q: Can I really take a CPAP machine on an airplane?
A: Yes, you can take a CPAP machine on an airplane. And, because it is considered a necessary medical device, the weight does not count against your carryon weight allotment. That said, you may have to spend a few minutes discussing the matter with security. So it often helps if you have a doctor’s note or the actual prescription with you when you travel.
Research indicates sleep apnea is at the heart of a nexus of degenerative health problems. A CPAP machine is one of the best-known ways to deal with the scourge of sleep apnea. The CPAP machine can not only restore deep, restful sleep, but also reverse or fend off the development of other, related conditions.
In the face of the unprecedented challenge presented by covid-19, the CPAP machine has also been cleared for use as a ventilator by the FDA. As a result, this typically obscure piece of medical hardware is being thrust into the healthcare spotlight at a critical time.
The CPAP machines on our list are all high-quality, reliable, affordable pieces of 21st century medical technology. Any one will undoubtedly serve you well whether your goal is to fight back against sleep apnea or obtain relief from covid-19 related ARDS.
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