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Who Needs CPAP?

Your doctor may recommend CPAP if you have obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP often is the best treatment for adults who have this condition.

Children also can have obstructive sleep apnea. The most common treatment for children is surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids. If symptoms don't improve after surgery, or if the condition is severe, CPAP may be an option.

If you have sleep apnea symptoms, your doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study. A sleep study measures how much and how well you sleep. It also can show whether you have sleep problems and how severe they are. (For more information, go to "What To Expect Before Using CPAP.")

Your doctor will likely refer you to a sleep specialist for the sleep study. Sleep specialists are doctors who diagnose and treat people who have sleep problems.

A special type of CPAP device is used to treat breathing disorders that are similar to sleep apnea, such as chronic hypoventilation or central sleep apnea.

In these conditions, the airways aren't blocked. However, the brain may not send the signals needed for proper breathing. This causes breaths that are too shallow or slow to meet your body's needs.

In central sleep apnea, you may stop breathing for brief periods. This disorder can occur alone or with obstructive sleep apnea. Only a sleep study can find out which type of sleep apnea you have and how severe it is.

In addition to CPAP, there are other positive airway pressure devices. If you don't feel that CPAP is working for you, ask your sleep specialist about other possible options.

Besides treating sleep apnea and other similar disorders, CPAP also is used to treat preterm infants whose lungs have not fully developed. For example, doctors may use CPAP to treat infants who have respiratory distress syndrome or bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

Treatment with CPAP can improve a preterm infant's chance of survival and reduce the need for other treatments and therapies.

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December 13, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.