Auto-Titrating/Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP)

Last Updated: February 22, 2019

Definition - What does Auto-Titrating/Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) mean?

Auto-titrating or automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machines are devices used in the treatment of sleep apnea. An APAP machine delivers a pressurized stream of air via a mask to the person who suffers from sleep apnea. This pressurized air helps keep the individual’s airways free of obstruction while they are sleeping and prevent incidents of apnea from occurring. An Auto-titrating/automatic positive airway pressure device is usually referred to as just automatic positive airway pressure, or APAP machine.

WorkplaceTesting explains Auto-Titrating/Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP)

The throat of a person who suffers from sleep apnea may collapse on itself while the person is sleeping. An auto-titrating or automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machine prevents this collapse by pushing a positive flow of air through the person’s throat. The pressure of the air holds the tissue of the throat open.


The machine consists of a pressure generator connected to a mask that is worn by by an individual. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine works similarly. What distinguishes the APAP machine from a CPAP machine is that the APAP machine adjusts to the wearer’s breathing pattern throughout the night.


Because it does not automatically adjust, a CPAP machine is usually set to the highest level of pressure necessary to keep the apnea sufferer’s airway open during the night. This pressure level is most often determined during a sleep or titration study. The CPAP machine user is then limited to the pressure level determine by the study.


However, the actual pressure needed to maintain an open airway can vary depending on the individual’s sleeping position or stage in the sleep cycle. Illness or allergies may also cause a person with sleep apnea to temporarily need a higher or lower level of pressure. An APAP machine uses an algorithm to sense and respond to these changing needs.


APAP machines made by different manufacturers will have different levels of responsiveness to change as each manufacturer creates its own algorithm. Most APAP machines can also be set to maintain a fixed pressure level, mimicking a CPAP machine when needed.

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