BiPAP is a small, easily operated machine that helps a person with COPD to breathe. When using a BiPAP machine, a person takes in pressurized air through a mask to regulate their breathing pattern while they are asleep or when their symptoms flare.

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. The condition makes it more difficult for a person to take air into their lungs. Their lungs are often less elastic, and so they may find it much harder to breathe deeply, and their lungs can fill with mucus.

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The symptoms of COPD often become worse at night, which can stop a person from sleeping and increase their daytime exhaustion. Deep sleep is important for repairing cellular tissues, so getting a good night’s sleep is essential.

In this article, we take an in-depth look at the effectiveness of BiPAP, possible side effects, and how it compares to CPAP therapy. We also discuss other therapies that can help with the symptoms of COPD.

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What is BiPAP?

Man using a Bipap machine for copd
People who use BiPAP at night may experience higher-quality sleep.

BiPAP stands for bi-level positive airway pressure. It is one type of PAP, or positive airway pressure machine, that is used to maintain a consistent breathing pattern at night or during symptom flare-ups in people with COPD.

The machine pressurizes the air to a higher level than the air in the room, and so it helps a person to take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. This helps them to breathe more easily, either while sleeping or when experiencing a flare-up of symptoms.

BiPAP and CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, are two often-used non-invasive ventilation (NIV) therapies.

Both BiPAP and CPAP involve the person breathing pressurized air through a mask attached to a small machine. People using CPAP or BiPAP at night may experience longer and higher-quality sleep.

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Many people with COPD do not require a BiPAP machine, and the device does not work well for every person. A doctor will help someone decide whether it would be beneficial for them.

How effective is BiPAP for COPD?

A doctor can prescribe CPAP or BiPAP machines to be used at home or in the hospital.

Doctors believe that daily use of BiPAP not only improves the quality of sleep for people with severe COPD, but it can also extend a person’s life. The use of BiPAP machines may also reduce the rate of hospital admissions among people with COPD.

BiPAP machines can also be used in emergency situations. In a flare-up of COPD symptoms, a BiPAP machine can take some of the load off a person’s breathing muscles and heart, allowing them to breathe more easily. It also boosts oxygen levels and normalizes carbon dioxide levels.

A study from 2015 reports that using BiPAP in the emergency room reduces the need for invasive treatments, improves outcomes, and shortens a person’s hospital visit.

Side effects of BiPAP

BiPAP is considered to be very safe. Most problems relating to BiPAP involve the facemask either fitting too tightly and damaging the skin, or fitting too loosely, causing pressurized air to leak from the mask.

Some people have reported the following side effects:

  • mild bloating of the stomach
  • dry mouth
  • eye irritation
  • sinus pain

Differences between CPAP and BiPAP

CPAP machines are another kind of small, pressurized breathing device. BiPAP is normally the preferred option for people with COPD.

The main difference is that, while CPAP helps a person inhale by using one kind of pressure, BiPAP helps a person both inhale and exhale by using two different pressures. This means that exhaling is easier with BiPAP machines.

CPAP works by holding the airways open through continuous pressure, whether the individual is breathing in or out. This pressure stops the upper airways from collapsing, which makes breathing easier and helps to prevent oxygen levels from falling while the person is asleep.

Both BiPAP and CPAP machines can also be used to treat heart failure, which is a possible complication of COPD. This therapy lowers the amount of blood that is returned to the heart, meaning that it is under less strain.

Other therapies for COPD

A person should discuss a COPD management plan with their doctor and have regular check-ups.

According to the British Lung Foundation, keeping active and exercising regularly can help with the symptoms of COPD. If a person smokes, quitting is the best treatment.

Medications

There are two main types of medication of COPD:

  • Controller medications that prevent symptoms of COPD.
  • Rescue medications that relieve symptoms when someone has a flare-up.

Examples of controllers that a doctor may recommend include:

  • short- or long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators
  • long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilators
  • corticosteroids
  • combination corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists
  • combination long-acting anticholinergics and long-acting beta-agonists
  • phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor

Examples of rescue relievers include:

  • short(fast)-acting beta-agonist bronchodilators
  • combination medications that contain short-acting anticholinergic and a short-acting beta-agonist

A person can take these medications through a handheld inhaler or a nebulizer, depending on the doctor’s advice.

Nebulizers are best suited to those with severe COPD because they allow a person to inhale the medication over time, though they take more time to prepare for use.

Medication preparation time for inhalers is quicker than for nebulizers. However, using inhalers is more difficult because the method differs between different ones.

Surgery

Surgery may help to treat some symptoms of COPD, depending on their cause.

If a person has emphysema, lung volume reduction surgery may be an option. This involves removing the worst affected sections of the lung, which improves the function of the healthier tissues.

People may be offered a lung transplant in the most severe case of COPD where they have not improved with other treatments. However, this is a risky operation with a small number of suitable organ donors.

Outlook

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that about 15.7 million Americans were diagnosed with a form of COPD in 2013. However, many people may not be aware that they have this condition, and so the actual number may be much higher.

Advances, including the BiPAP technology, can improve the quality of life for people with COPD.

A person should talk to their doctor about the best way to treat the symptoms of COPD and about whether a BiPAP machine is the right option for them.