CPAP Travel

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a type of positive airway pressure, where the air flow is introduced into the airways to maintain a continuous pressure to constantly stent the airways open, in people who are breathing spontaneously.

CPAP differs from bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) where the pressure delivered differs based on whether the patient is inhaling or exhaling.

Travel CPAP machines allow all users the opportunity to travel with small, lightweight, quiet and convenient devices that won’t take up your whole suitcase or contribute to your travel baggage allowances. With travel CPAP machines travelling with your specifically tailored compact travel machine is easier than ever.

Portability has become an important consideration with the design of these machines. Over time, the machines have become lighter and more compact, with multi-voltage power supplies for international use. Having a portable CPAP machine also opens endless travel options. 

With advances in modern technology and the introduction of specifically designed travel CPAP machines, leaving home with your CPAP therapy has never been easier. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, domestic or international, your CPAP treatment can travel with you also. Apart from being smaller and more convenient to travel with, travel CPAP machines have other important features including:

Cigarette lighter compatibility
DC Cable Converter compatibility
Portable extended battery compatibility

Travel with a CPAP machine

1. Can I travel with CPAP?

CPAP treatment for sleep apnea may not be the most convenient thing to use. But it doesn’t need to get in the way of your lifestyle. There are a number of things that can be done that you should know about. These let you travel, go camping and get out and about while still using your CPAP at night.

2. Do I need to use CPAP every night?

When your doctor found you had sleep apnea, you had probably already had it for a number of years. During this time, it wouldn’t have been treated. One more night with no CPAP probably won’t put you at risk. But you need to know that as soon as you stop using CPAP, your breathing during the night will get worse. This means your daytime symptoms will come back. Think back to how things were before you started CPAP. There is a risk of going back to feeling this way. You may suffer from morning headaches and feel tired and moody during the day. Everyone is different, but these can come back after the first night with no CPAP. Feeling tired during the day is a problem. This will raise your risk of road and other accidents. If you are driving for your holiday then this could be deadly. If you are tired, do not drive as you and others will be at risk.

3. Can I use my CPAP in other countries?

Before going abroad you should talk to your sleep clinic or supplier of CPAP machines. You need to know how suitable the machine is for use in another country. As a rule, most machines these days are able to run on other voltages, such as 110V in the United States without modification, as they have an inbuilt “switch mode” power supply. For some, you need to use a switch to adjust them, others adjust on their own. You must check this. Some machines can’t run on other voltages. In this case you might need to buy a transformer. Or you could hire a machine that works in the place you are going. If what you have now is suitable, don’t forget adaptor plugs.

4. Will the air pressure I get change in different countries?

This depends on the type of machine that you use. If you are at a higher altitude (e.g. the mountains), the air pressure around you is less. Some machines give less pressure in this case. Others will adjust to make up for this. How much pressure you need may vary too. This is due to how your sleep varies with altitude. In general the effects are quite small. It is better to use the CPAP, even if it is not at the best pressure, than not to use it.

5. Can I use my CPAP on a ship or plane?

On a cruise ship or long haul flight, there will be power points. You can use these with most CPAP machines. You need to know what voltage you will be getting while on board. Consult with the airline or shipping line you are going with to find this out. Then talk with your clinic or supplier to make sure that the pump will work at this voltage. As a rule, the airline will need a medical certificate from your doctor. They may also only let you use specific units on board the flight. Getting all this ready can take some time. This means it is best to start these well before the date you leave. You might be worried about looking strange by using CPAP on the flight. If you are, then think about the alternative. This may be an extremely disrupted sleep with loud snoring. Both you and the other people on board would be far better off with a quiet CPAP machine.

6. What should I watch out for when transporting my CPAP equipment?

Make sure your CPAP isn’t damaged in transit. If it is your holiday may be difficult and unhappy. Even if you won’t use your CPAP on the flight, take it on board as part of your hand baggage. Make sure that it is in a sturdy, protective bag. Airlines are used to people with medical equipment. Explain things to them. They will probably let you have this as another piece of cabin baggage. To be even safer, you might want to get a letter explaining things. It is best if this is from a specialist doctor. You can use this if you run into any problems with customs or airlines. A lot of countries use languages other than English. If you are going to one of these, you should get these translated.

7. Can I use my CPAP while camping?

If you will have access to normal mains power you should always use your CPAP. Some people worry about the air being much colder than at home. If you do, you should discuss this with your sleep clinic or supplier before you go. There are many simple things you can do to help. Running CPAP tubes under the bedclothes may be enough to warm the air. On the other hand, you may need a heated humidifier.

8. Can I use my CPAP with a battery?

This needs some planning. You have to talk with your CPAP supplier well in advance of your holiday. Some newer CPAP machines can run straight from a battery. In this case you will only need the adaptor from car to CPAP machine. Others will work if you use a suitable inverter. This makes power from a battery (12V DC) into a form that is like normal mains power (240V AC). You should know that not all of them are the same. Some may be better than others for use with your CPAP machine. If you use the wrong one, it may shorten the life of the CPAP machine. This is because there is more stress on the motor. You must talk to the supplier of your CPAP to find out which inverters you need.

9. How long will my CPAP run on a battery?

This depends a lot on the type of CPAP machine. It also depends on the pressure it gives. Older ones tend to use more power. When the pressure goes up, they use more power. A modern CPAP machine can run off a car battery for at least about 8 hours. But take care not to be stuck with a flat battery. You might want a second battery if you can afford it. A deep cycle marine or recreational vehicle battery would be good. You can have this charging while you’re driving. Talk to an auto electrician to set this up. In this way you will not be dependent on your CPAP battery to start the car. You can use mains power to recharge as well. For this you need a battery charger.

10. Can I use a heated humidifier with a battery and inverter?

In general for older humidifiers this is NOT a good idea as they consume a lot of power. Some may not control how hot it is when you use an inverter. But there are newer units that can be used with an inverter. If you feel you must use one you should talk with your CPAP supplier before you try to use it with a battery. There may be other things you can try such as an unheated humidifier

11. If I use oxygen with CPAP can I still use a battery power source?

Unfortunately, this is not a good idea. A spark from the equipment can cause a fire if oxygen is in use. If you use oxygen, even at night, you must talk with your specialist physician before doing things which might place you at risk e.g. camping.

12. Are there special batteries made for use with CPAP/APAP?

Some manufacturers supply batteries made specifically for their machines. These batteries are sealed Lithium-ion batteries and are certified for use on planes. These batteries usually last an average 12-13 hours on CPAP only, about 6 hrs using CPAP and humidifier and about 3-4 hrs using CPAP, humidifier, and heated tubing. The battery will be used up quicker at higher pressures or if the mask leaks. Mask leaks result in the machine working harder as it tries to compensate for the leak.

The batteries are charged from mains power and take around 4 hrs to be charged from completely flat to fully charged.

Use of CPAP with other than normal mains voltage may pose special problems or risks. It may void your warranty. The supplier of your CPAP machine should always be consulted before using non-mains power supplies unless an approved battery and inverter.

CPAP can be administered in several ways based on the mask interface used:

Nasal CPAP: Nasal prongs that fit directly into the nostrils or a small mask that fits over the nose
Nasopharyngeal (NP) CPAP: Administered via a nasopharyngeal tube- an airway placed through the nose whose tip terminates in the nasopharynx. This has the advantage of bypassing the nasal cavity, and CPAP is delivered more distally.
CPAP via face mask: A full face mask is placed over the nose and mouth with a good seal. It can be used for those that are mouth breathers, or for pre-oxygenation in spontaneously breathing patients prior to intubation.
A CPAP machine also includes straps to position the mask, a hose or tube that connects the mask to the machine’s motor, a motor that blows air into the tube, and an air filter to purify the air entering the nose.

The first few nights on CPAP may be difficult, while patients acclimate. Many patients at first find the mask uncomfortable, claustrophobic, or embarrassing.

Air travel with a portable CPAP machine

Before Air travel with a CPAP machine

  1. Make Sure Your CPAP Equipment Is Dry Before You Pack.
    Empty your humidifier water chamber and make sure your CPAP device and supplies are completely dry before packing them to prevent mold and mildew.
  2. Pack Backup CPAP Supplies.
    Even for a short trip, make sure to pack extra supplies like mask cushions, headgear, and filters. These supplies have a way of breaking when you need them most, and nobody wants to play MacGyver just to get a good night’s sleep.
  3. Keep A Copy of Your Prescription With You.
    You probably won’t need it, but if you had to replace your CPAP mask or machine while on vacation you’d be glad to have it!
  4. Bottled Water Is Your Friend.
    Even if you’re headed to a five-star hotel, it’s a good idea to bring some bottled water, because you don’t know when or where you’ll find distilled water. It’s important to only use distilled water in your CPAP, because tap water (and even spring water) contains minerals that can build up in your machine and cause it to break down in time.

This is especially important if you’re traveling to a location where you’re advised to not drink the local water. If the tap water isn’t safe to drink, you probably shouldn’t inhale it either.

  1. Stock Up On CPAP Wipes.
    You don’t want to waste your bottled water on cleaning your CPAP supplies. CPAP wipes are a fast and easy way to make sure your mask and machine stay clean. Plus, the alcohol-free formula is good for more than just CPAP equipment!
  2. Make Sure You Have the Right Power Supply
    If you’ll be traveling internationally, you may find that your power cord isn’t compatible with the local power outlets. Most modern CPAPs will automatically correct for the difference in voltage (110v in America vs 220v in most of Europe), but you’ll likely need an adapter to fit the outlet.
  3. Get A Second Battery Pack.
    Even if you’re heading to a location with ample power, you never know what might happen along the way. Maybe your flight gets delayed. Maybe your campsite doesn’t have an outlet. Maybe your hotel experiences a power outage. No matter what, having a battery or two can help protect your sleep health from unforeseen problems.
  4. Invest in a DC Converter.
    A DC converter is an inexpensive way to multiply your power supply options. DC adaptors allow you to power your CPAP (or charge your battery) from solar panels, USB ports, cigarette lighter style outlets, and even car batteries.

Extra tips

Pick a seat that has access to power if you need to use your CPAP machine on a long flight. Also, bring your airline’s phone number and website with you to check their assisted device policy. The airline has the final approval for in-flight usage.
FAA Compliance Letter: Download and keep with your CPAP machine.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Review the airport security page for medical conditions to confirm the process for CPAP machines.
Review airline policies for using CPAP machine for in-flight use and restrictions for carry ons.
Review a checklist of documents to take with you.

Do I have to remove CPAP from my carry-on?

A nebulizer, CPAP, BiPAP and APAP must be removed from its carrying case and undergo X-ray screening.
Facemasks and tubing may remain in the case. You may provide a clear plastic bag to place the device through the X-ray

Things to do when you fly with a CPAP machine.

  • Bring your CPAP machine in its case as carry-on.
  • Prepare to show appropriate documentation (pack with your machine).
  • Remove your CPAP from your luggage for security
  • Turn humidifier off, and turn on airplane mode (if your CPAP machine has it).

The Best Travel CPAP Machines

Mini CPAP machine for travel

There is an extensive range of portable CPAP machines that are designed for travel.
They’re small and lightweight, ensuring that you can continue your therapy while on the go.

Modern travel CPAP machines are specifically designed to be as convenient as possible when you want to continue your sleep apnea therapy away from home. With everything from airplane usage to overnight battery considered in the design of the best travel CPAP machines.

Compact and lightweight: Travel CPAP machines are significantly small, lightweight devices when compared to the usual CPAP device, meaning that it is light and easy to pack and carry around.

Overnight battery: Most portable CPAP machines have the option to be battery powered, with some lasting upwards of 13 hours. This means that you can always continue your CPAP therapy, wherever you are.

Fewer components: A smaller amount of parts means that you won’t have to worry about forgetting or losing anything. Not to mention, you won’t have to waste time setting your CPAP machine up.

Usability: With many mobile machines having convenient USB ports, efficient app and Bluetooth connectivity, and modern features such as waterless humidifier systems, CPAP therapy is quick and easy while you are on the go.

Flexibility: You will be able to continue your sleep apnea therapy no matter what the situation, whether you are on a work trip or holiday, camping or on a flight.

There are 3 types of CPAP machines that are sometimes collectively called “CPAP” even though they are APAP or BiPAP machines.

The 3 types are:

  • Fixed Pressure CPAP (otherwise known as CPAP) – is a machine that deliver a constant air pressure whilst you sleep.
  • Automatic CPAP (otherwise known as APAP, Variable Pressure CPAP or Smart CPAP) – is a newer form of CPAP machine, that was invented primarily with the purpose of improving patient compliance. Optimal therapy is achieved by automatically providing the patient with the minimum pressure required to maintain an unobstructed airway on a breath-by-breath basis.
  • BiPAP (otherwise known as Bi-level, VPAP or medical ventilation) – is a machine that delivers one pressure for breathing in, and a different pressure for breathing out.