The Risks of Using BiPAP Machines to Treat Sleep Apnea

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend a BiPAP machine to help you breathe better when you sleep. BiPAP stands for bilevel positive airway pressure. It’s a type of ventilator that can treat sleep apnea and other breathing disorders during sleep. When used correctly, a BiPAP machine is safe and effective in reducing the frequency and severity of sleep apnea attacks. However, there are some risks involved with using a BiPAP machine to manage your sleep apnea. Keep reading to learn more about the risks of using this device for managing sleep apnea.

Basics of BiPAP Devices

BiPAP stands for bilevel positive airway pressure. It’s a type of ventilator that can treat sleep apnea and other breathing disorders during sleep. To use a BiPAP machine, you’ll wear a mask over your nose that connects to the machine. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend a BiPAP machine to help you breathe better when you sleep. BiPAP machines are intended for short-term use. They work by creating a continuous positive pressure in your upper airway using a fixed pressure, or a pressure that stays the same throughout the treatment. You’ll have a mask that fits over your nose and a machine that delivers air pressure at a set rate. You’ll set the pressure based on how you’re feeling, and your doctor will adjust the settings over the course of the treatment. The machine delivers the air pressure via the mask, and it’s usually set at a pressure that’s higher than your natural breathing rate.

Creating Positive Airway Pressure

BiPAP machines create positive airway pressure (or PAP) by blowing air into your upper airways at an increased rate. They do this in order to improve blood flow and oxygen levels in your bloodstream during sleep. The goal is to ensure that your throat and upper airways stay open. The machine will deliver a continuous stream of air at a certain pressure, and you’ll control the rate at which the air flows. BiPAP machines are usually used as part of a treatment plan for obstructive sleep apnea. When you sleep with OSA, your airway is blocked by your tongue, tonsils, or some other part of your body. This makes it difficult or impossible to breathe. This can lead to serious health issues if left untreated, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and even death. As such, many people with OSA use a BiPAP machine while they sleep in order to boost their blood flow and improve their breathing.

Risk of Choking

Choking is one of the most common risks of using a BiPAP machine. The choking risk occurs when the air pressure is too high, and the patient cannot expel it from the mouth. This can result in inhalation of the air along with the food in the mouth. The patient can also choke on the saliva in their mouth. In both cases, it is important to turn the machine off immediately. Most patients with OSA have a reduced ability to cough, swallow, or clear mucus from their throats. This can result in food, liquids, or mucus being trapped in the throat. If this occurs while sleeping, it can be extremely difficult to clear it. In some cases, the patient may not be able to dislodge the obstruction and will need outside assistance to remove it. The risk of choking while sleeping with a BiPAP machine is higher in patients who have OSA.

Risk of Breathing Limitation

BiPAP machines are designed to provide continuous positive pressure in order to keep the airways open. However, the pressure can become so great that the airway is not able to close. This is called breathing limitation and is caused by the BiPAP machine’s pressure being too high. If this occurs, the patient can experience a decrease in blood oxygen levels, fatigue, and dizziness. In some cases, breathing limitation can be so extreme that the patient cannot stop it. If you experience breathing limitation while using a BiPAP machine, turn the device off immediately. Many patients will feel this pressure, as it can make it difficult to breathe and swallow. However, most people are able to adjust the pressure on their machines as needed. Breathing limitation can also occur in patients with chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the airways. This includes asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis. These patients may need a lower BiPAP pressure than someone without inflammation.

Risk of Suffocation and Smothered Feeling

The goal of using a BiPAP machine is to increase the amount of air in the airways and keep them open. However, if the machine is set too high, the patient may feel suffocated. Using a low machine setting can help reduce the risk of suffocation. If you feel like the machine is pressing too hard against your throat, or you are having trouble breathing, you may need to lower the pressure. However, remember to check with your doctor first. If the pressure is too low, the airways may become blocked. This can make it difficult to breathe and may lead to health issues such as heart attack, stroke, and even death. Therefore, it is important to find the right machine pressure that opens the airways without pressing too hard against the throat.

Risk of Infection

Many machines used to treat sleep apnea use filters to keep out excess dust, bacteria, and other particles. BiPAP machines also use filters, but they are not 100% effective. Therefore, they cannot be used by people who have a high chance of having an infection, such as those who are on antibiotics. It is possible for bacteria to get through the filters and into the BiPAP machine. This can then spread to other people, animals, and even the environment.  In fact, this is one of the reasons for the recent Philips Respironics BiPAP machine recall.  


If you use a BiPAP machine, you should be vigilant about cleaning it regularly. You should also replace the filters on a regular basis, as this can greatly help reduce the risk of infection. It is also important to keep your BiPAP machine in a clean, dry area. This can also help reduce your risk of infection. If you are experiencing any of the above risks, it is important to discuss it with your doctor as soon as possible.