Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) therapy is often used in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is an umbrella term for lung and respiratory diseases that make breathing difficult. Initially, the therapy was only available as an in-patient treatment within hospitals. Now, it can be done at home. Modern BiPAP machines are tabletop devices fitted with tubing and a mask. You simply put the mask over your nose and/or mouth to receive two levels of pressurized air. One pressure level is delivered when you inhale, and a lower pressure is delivered when you exhale. BiPAP machines often feature a “smart” breath timer that adapts to your respiratory patterns. It automatically resets the level of pressurized air when needed to help keep your breathing level on target. This therapy is a type of noninvasive ventilation (NIV). That’s because BiPAP therapy doesn’t require a surgical procedure, such as intubation or tracheotomy. Keep reading to learn how this therapy helps manage COPD and how it compares to other treatment options.
If you have COPD, your breathing is likely labored. Shortness of breath and wheezing are common symptoms of COPD, and these symptoms can worsen as the condition progresses. BiPAP therapy targets these dysfunctional breathing patterns. By having a custom air pressure for when you inhale and a second custom air pressure when you exhale, the machine is able to provide relief to your overworked lungs and chest wall muscles. This therapy was originally used to treat sleep apnea, and for good reason. When you’re sleeping, your body relies on your central nervous system to lead the breathing process. If you’re resting in a reclined position, you experience more resistance when breathing. Depending on your individual needs, BiPAP therapy can take place when you’re awake or asleep. Daytime use can limit social interactions, among other things, but may be necessary in certain situations. Typically, you’ll use a BiPAP machine at night to help keep your airways open while you’re sleeping. This aids the exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide, making it easier for you to breathe. For people with COPD, this means less labored breathing during the night. The pressure in your airway encourages a steady flow of oxygen. This allows your lungs to more efficiently transport oxygen to your body and remove excess carbon dioxide.