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From Pugs to People: The Interesting History of the CPAP

The CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine is a common treatment for sleep apnea. The CPAP machine helps to keep the airway open so that the person with sleep apnea can keep breathing. The CPAP machine was first developed in the 1980s by an Australian doctor, Colin Sullivan. His experimentation with dogs (pugs — known to have breathing problems) helped him develop the CPAP machine, which is now a standard treatment for sleep apnea. His work showed that the condition could be effectively treated by maintaining constant air pressure, preventing the collapse of tissues that cause breathing interruptions.

The CPAP machine has undergone many changes since it was first developed. Let’s delve into the interesting history of the CPAP machine.

1970 – The Permanent Tracheostomy

A permanent tracheostomy is a surgical procedure in which a hole is made in the front part of the neck and a tube is inserted into the trachea (windpipe). This tube is then connected to a breathing machine (ventilator). Before the invention of the CPAP machine, permanent tracheostomy was usually done as a last resort treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) after surgical interventions failed. Permanent tracheostomy is a highly invasive surgical procedure and carried several risks, including infection, bleeding, and damage to the nerves in the neck. While permanent tracheostomy is major surgery, it is not a cure for OSA and the person remained compromised for life.

This was the state of affairs until the early 1980s.

1980 – The Work of Eliot Philipson, & Colin Sullivan

Eliot Philipson and Colin Sullivan are responsible for the invention of the CPAP machine. Philipson began researching the idea for a CPAP machine in 1970, and Sullivan joined the project in 1976. Sullivan invented the CPAP machine. He got the idea through his experimentation with one of his dog (pug) patients. For his early CPAP machine, he used a vacuum cleaner. The machine worked by delivering a steady stream of air to the dog patient through a mask. Sullivan found that the air pressure was enough to keep the airway open, preventing the dog patient from snoring or gasping for air.

1995 – Introduction of an External Humidifier and Heated Humidification

This humidifier, introduced in 1995, was designed to help improve the comfort of CPAP users by providing a more consistent level of humidity. The humidifier is also reported to help reduce the risk of sinus infections and other respiratory problems. Heated humidification adds moisture to the air delivered by the CPAP machine, and can help to reduce some common side effects of CPAP therapy.

2000 – Auto-Titrating Technology and Heated Tube

Auto-titrating technology, introduced in the early 2000s, automatically adjusts the amount of pressure delivered based on your needs. This ensures that you always receive the optimal level of pressure, and makes it much easier to use CPAP on a long-term basis. Heated tubes helped prevent condensation from forming inside the tube, which was a major problem with earlier CPAP machines. Heated tubes also made it much more comfortable to use CPAP in colder weather.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the CPAP machine has helped many people with sleep apnea to get a good night’s sleep. The recent advances in CPAP technology have made it a much more effective and comfortable treatment option for sleep apnea.

Feel like your breathing is stuck in the 1980s? Shop our CPAP machines, CPAP Cleaning & Charging Accessories or reach out to talk to one of our specialists about resupply and accessories.

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