For patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), CPAP therapy is nothing short of life support. While loud snoring is probably the most noticeable effect of OSA, the truly dangerous consequences of untreated OSA happen inside the body. Untreated OSA causes high blood pressure, damages the heart, and an increased risk of strokes.

CPAP machines are life-saving technology.

The adjustment period may be uncomfortable, but once OSA patients adapt to the CPAP lifestyle they will become dependent on their machine. This dependency is a good thing because the machine is literally saving their lives. The alternative, resisting treatment, results in a slow death from lack of sleep.

In June 2017, famous actress Carrie Fisher died in her sleep. Although the media chose to focus on trace amounts of drugs in her system, the official coroner’s report focused on obstructive sleep apnea. It is unclear if Fisher was even aware that she had OSA. Although the coroner’s documented cause of death was “undetermined,” it has widely been attributed to OSA.

There has also been speculation that Justice Scalia’s sudden death was connected to skipping CPAP.

2009 Study: Sleep apnea raises death risk 46%

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study finding that severe sleep apnea raises the risk of dying early by 46 percent. Other studies have found there is an 86% likelyhood of dying prematurely.

Suffocation without CPAP

In layman’s terms, sleep apnea is literally when a person stops breathing during their sleep. In response, the brain to experiences repeated moments of suffocating. The person’s sleep must be interrupted for air, either through a snort or a full “wake up.”

“In severe sleep apnea, a patient’s airway is blocked while the patient suffers for 20 to 30 seconds and wakes up. When it becomes this frequent — 30 times per hour — about every two minutes it is severe sleep apnea and can become a problem. [The] most successful treatment can be a nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask that applies pressure to help keep the airways of a patient open while they sleep, allowing normal breathing.”

Untreated OSA causes people to wake up frequently, gasping for air on the verge of suffocating. Without a CPAP “life support” machine, there is the risk of never waking up again.

CPAP machines as emergency life support

CPAP machines aren’t limited to treating sleep apnea. They are commonly used as life support devices in medical emergencies. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence that CPAP therapy truly is “life support,” is found in the lesser-known applications.

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP, writes that CPAP isn’t just one possible way of managing congestive heart failure and other respiratory emergencies, it is “the standard of care.”

CPAP machines are primarily used “for the management of heart failure secondary to pulmonary hypertension.” Hsieh said that CPAP machines are used for treating bronchoconstriction, toxic inhalation, drowning, flail chest, and lung infections (like pneumonia).


In closing, two areas deserve some further clarification. First, this article does not intent to suggest that the “quality of life” of an individual living with untreated sleep apnea is the same as that of a patient in a state of unconsciousness. Secondly, even the most severe OSA patients can most likely survive a night without their CPAP machine.

For further reading on the “quality of life”: