Seniors & Aging

When you need help with breathing, CPAP and oxygen concentrators offer assistance

Continuous positive airway pressure – or CPAP – machines help people with sleep apnea, a stoppage of proper breathing for 10 seconds or more while asleep because the upper airways have a blockage of airflow.
Continuous positive airway pressure – or CPAP – machines help people with sleep apnea, a stoppage of proper breathing for 10 seconds or more while asleep because the upper airways have a blockage of airflow. Getty Images/iStockphoto

You may not know much about the continuous positive airway pressure machine and the portable oxygen concentrator devices unless family members or friends have needed them.

Sarah Farmer, the affable certified respiratory therapist at Bellingham’s Hoagland Pharmacy, can make learning about the machines fun with her ever-smiling personality. She works as a team with respiratory assistants Bobbi Sharp and Danielle Burkett.

Question: Sarah, who uses the continuous positive airway pressure – known as CPAP – machine?

Answer: It’s a machine available with a prescription (after a doctor refers a patient to a respiratory therapist such as Farmer) to help people who have been diagnosed (with sleep apnea). Sleep apnea is a stoppage of proper breathing for 10 seconds or more while asleep because the upper airways have a blockage of airflow. Untreated, sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, excessive tired spells and more. The machine collects and feeds air into the airways.

Q: What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

A: A common symptom is waking up gasping for air. Others can be snoring, waking up with a headache, feeling tired after you thought you had a full night’s rest, or a decrease in attention span or concentration.

Q: What are these masks used by CPAP clients?

A: The least invasive is the nasal pillow, which fits into the nostrils to help open the upper airways. Open-mouth sleepers typically require a full-face mask, which is a nasal mask that covers the entire face. A nasal mask covers the entire nose. For people who don’t feel comfortable with a full-face mask, there a what we call chin strips.

With a CPAP, you have the machine and a humidifier that can be attached to prevent mouth dryness from all the air. The humidifier is not mandatory; it’s a case-by-case basis.

Q: How many people sleep with their mouths open?

A: I’d say about 60 percent.

Q: Does Hoagland Pharmacy sell CPAP machines and equipment?

A: Yes. Hoagland is the only pharmacy in Bellingham with CPAP machines and we do get patients who appreciate a personal touch (during sometimes frequent visits. The three primary manufacturers are Respironics, Resmed and Fisher Paykel. In Bellingham, medical equipment is also available from durable medical equipment vendors such as Lincare, Norco, Apria and Bellevue Healthcare. Hoagland doesn’t sell POC machines but the others do including Bellevue Healthcare, which sells a wide variety of durable medical equipment including the oxygen machines.

Q: And the portable oxygen concentrator – or POC – machine?

A: POCs are obtained with a prescription and used by people with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (a serious lung condition that prevents people from exhaling and inhaling efficiently). The POC creates oxygen and is used with a nasal cannula, which sends oxygen into the nose.

Q: How does an oxygen concentrator function?

A: Large oxygen concentrators use a cord (so their noise can be muted by using the plug in a different room), while portable ones use a battery. The machines create (pure) oxygen by taking it from the air (thus the word concentrator).

Q: Medicare covers most expenses for both machines, right?

A: Yes, Medicare covers 80 percent of the costs. A patient is eligible for a new machine every five years, so they have to be maintained and cleaned. With a CPAP, a patient actually rents a machine for a year and then becomes the owner.

 

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