The Difference Between CPAP, APAP & VPAP

Although Sleep Apnea is a commonly recognized and understood sleeping disorder, there is no cure for the syndrome. Unfortunately, no miracle surgery or medication exists that can automatically and immediately correct the causes and symptoms of Sleep Apnea. There are, however, popular and conventional treatments that apnea sufferers incorporate to improve the consequences of their sleeping disorder.

Breathing machines are the most common form of respiratory therapies for Sleep Apnea patients. Breathing machines are also referred to as mechanical ventilation methods. Mechanical ventilation machines are used by patients who are not able to support their respiratory functions on their own. Ventilation machines

Positive Airway Pressure

Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) is the most common method of respiratory ventilation assistance used to treat apnea patients. Positive pressure machines help the inner walls of the trachea and bronchi maintain elevated levels of air pressure.  PAP technology was initially developed to treat Sleep Apnea patients, but is also used during respiratory failure in adults and infants in high-risk medical situations.

  • How does PAP Work? The flow generator is the main component of a PAP machine. The flow generator is a small machine that produces a pressurized airflow; the generator is comparable to a vacuum set on reverse (cleaner of course). A pressurized stream of air is created in the generator and travels through a tube, or hose to be delivered to the patient. The air can be delivered via a full face mask, a nasal mask, and even a lip seal mouthpiece.
  • How does PAP Help Sleep Apnea? During an episode of apnea, the victim experiences the complete stoppage of breath. The respiratory system begins to work extremely hard; excess amounts of energy are used in an effort to resume inspiration. PAP therapy can increase the lung’s ability to effectively regulate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The pressurized air emitted from the PAP machine is strong enough to keep the fragile muscles in the airway to collapse. PAP therapy can help increase lung capacity. At the end of every breath, leftover air remains in your lungs; this amount is referred to as functional residual capacity.  The functional residual capacity of the lungs increases and the respiratory system doesn’t have to exercise as much energy during inspiration.  

Different PAP Machines

There are three main models of PAP machines that are used to treat Sleep Apnea patients: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, Automatic Positive Airway Pressure, and Variable Automatic Positive Airway Pressure. While the fundamental components of the three models are essentially the same, different forms of Sleep Apnea require different PAP models.


  • What is CPAP? Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, CPAP, is also called fixed positive airway pressure and is the most commonly used form of PAP therapy in patients with sleeping disorders. The CPAP machine emits a constant stream of pressurized air from the flow generator to the patient. The machine is set to a prescribed air pressure level and blows a stream of air at that level all night long.
  • How does CPAP Help Sleep Apnea? The steady pressurized stream of air being pushed into the lungs keeps the airway open. CPAP machines use the strength of the air pressure to help prevent the airway from collapsing. Although the machine produces a constant flow of air into the body, the movement of the air is not responsible for keeping the airway open; the pressure supports the airway and helps it to remain open.
  • Who Uses CPAP? Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is mainly used by Obstructive Sleep Apnea victims. The constant flow of air keeps the tissues and muscles in the throat from sagging and blocking the airway.


  • What is VPAP? Variable Positive Airway Pressure, VPAP, is also called Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure and is the second most commonly used breathing assistance machine. Unlike the CPAP, the VPAP machine does not produce one steady stream of pressurized air; it produces two regulated pressurized streams. A higher level of pressure is produced during inspiration, the Inspiratory Positive Airway Pressure. The second stream of air produced, the lower-pressurized stream, is released during exhalation, Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure.
  • How does VPAP Help Sleep Apnea? VPAP machines are much easier to get used to than CPAP machines. They still keep the airway open, but they reduce the amount of pressure forced into the airway. This bi-level technology helps Sleep Apnea patients fall asleep faster and sleep longer throughout the night. The gentle shifting between air pressures can help prevent discomfort and claustrophobia.
  • Who Uses VPAP? While CPAP machines are ideal of OSA patients, VPAP machines are ideal for patients with Central Sleep Apnea. When the brain causes the respiratory system to cease during a CSA episode, a continuous stream of pressurized air is not going to help the problem. A VPAP machine can register the changes in breathing pattern and rate and respond accordingly. 


  • What is APAP? Automatic Positive Airway Pressure, APAP, is the most advanced Sleep Apnea machine on the market today. The flow generator in the APAP machine is controlled by impressive medical software that regulates the air pressure expelled during the night. An AutoPAP records the inspirations and exhalations of the user and analyzes each individual breath. APAP machines can target the minimal level of air pressure that the respiratory system requires to remain free of obstruction. The machine can determine and resistance that a patient may experience while breathing, and releases the level of pressure needed to support that individual breath.
  • How does APAP Help Sleep Apnea? APAP is the ideal form of respiratory therapy for Sleep Apnea patients. Not only does the machine prevent the airway from becoming obstructed or collapsing, it eliminates the annoyance of high pressure air.
  • Who Uses APAP? APAP is by far the most expensive PAP machine, and it is not covered in many insurance policies. Many people who choose to use APAP machines experience difficulty falling asleep with continuous air pressure. Because the APAP machine only produces the minimal amount of pressure needed, sleep is less likely to be interrupter. 

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