Sleep apnea is a surprisingly common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s most common in overweight people, and tends to affect those over 40 – but, the condition is widespread and can affect nearly anyone, even children. Essentially, sleep apnea is a condition in which the patient stops breathing at night, which causes them to wake up or, at minimum, come out of a deep sleep into a lighter sleep. This can cause daytime drowsiness, mood swings, fatigue, and more.
The most common way to treat sleep apnea is to use a CPAP machine or a BiPAP machine. These devices help the patient achieve better sleep quality by using airway pressure to prevent pauses in breathing. When comparing BiPAP vs CPAP, it’s first good to understand that both these machines are quite similar, and are used in nearly identical ways. So, what’s the difference between CPAP and BiPAP? Let’s dive in.
What is CPAP?
CPAP is an acronym that stands for “continuous positive airway pressure”. CPAP machines pressurize air, which is pumped through a tube into a mask that the patient wears during sleep. The continual delivery of pressurized air helps keep the patient’s airways open, and prevents lapses in breath.
CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. It uses a single pressure which is constant through the night (the pressure can adjust as needed to prevent lapses in breathing, but there is a single pressure for both inhalation and exhalation). This distinction of pressure settings is the main difference of CPAP vs BiPAP. See our What is CPAP guide for more info.
What is BiPAP?
BiPAP or BPAP is an acronym that stands for “bilevel positive airway pressure”. Like CPAP machines, BiPAP units pressurize air that is delivered through a facial or nasal mask. The main difference of CPAP vs BiPAP is that BiPAP machines have two distinct pressures: one for the inhale, and one for the exhale.
Sometimes, people who require a high pressure setting prefer BiPAP, because it can be hard to exhale against the strong continual pressure of a CPAP unit. That said, CPAP is more popular by a long shot. Patients who do not find success with a CPAP unit might be referred to a BiPAP by their doctor. See our What is BiPAP guide for more info.
CPAP vs BiPAP: Which is Better?
Now that you know the difference between CPAP and BiPAP, you might be wondering which is the better choice for you. In the showdown between CPAP vs BiPAP, there really is no “best” option. The right machine for you depends on the specifics of your condition, and your doctors recommendation.
Typically, CPAP machines are the first-line treatment for sleep apnea. They are cheaper than BiPAPs, and work well for most people. Patients who do not respond well to CPAP therapy might then be given a BiPAP prescription. BiPAP is also the preferred treatment option for patients with lung issues like COPD.