Do you Need a Prescription to Buy a CPAP Machine?


Are you tired of waking up groggy in the morning because of sleep apnea?  Is your bed partner complaining about your loud snoring at night?   A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine can be uncomfortable, so if you’re looking for one, we’re guessing you have already tried other methods for snoring and sleep apnea (such as using a mouth guard, sleeping on your side, or elevating your head), and none of them have worked.  Or perhaps you have central sleep apnea (which we’ll talk about further down the article), and getting a machine is your only option.

So, you may be wondering if you can simply buy a CPAP machine without getting a prescription for it.  Well, technically, the answer is yes, but it’s illegal to do so.  In the United States, the law says you must have a prescription to legally have a CPAP machine.  Before legally getting one, you must go through a sleep study to find out whether a CPAP machine is actually necessary or not.  If the person conducting your sleep study determines that you do need a CPAP machine, the sleep study is included in the prescription along with the  machine.

Now you are probably wondering why a prescription is necessary for a CPAP machine.  Well, CPAP machines are under the Food and Drug Administration; you can’t easily buy one without a prescription, and the person selling it to you will most likely ask for one.

Buying a CPAP machine without a prescription is not only illegal, but unsafe as well.  These machines have different settings based on your needs, and if your machine doesn’t have a prescription, you can’t be sure it has been put on the right settings for your needs.  If it hasn’t, the results can be dangerous.  If the setting is too low, you might think you are getting the necessary treatment for your condition, when in reality, you are continuing to stop breathing in the middle of the night.  If it is too high, you could experience a number of conditions, such as the following:

  • Air leaking from your mask
  • Dry mouth and throat, even with a humidifier
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Aerophagia – “swallowing” air into your stomach, which can cause bloating, excessive burping, gas, and stomach cramps.

Either way, the outcome is disastrous; this is why it is important to have a trusted doctor set the machine.

As soon as you get your CPAP machine, your doctor is going to examine the results from your sleep study.  Then, they will adjust the settings to make sure it meets your needs.

A prescription is also required if you are paying for your machine with insurance; if you don’t have a prescription, they are not going to pay for it.

Also, there are different types of sleep apnea, and different types of machines for each kind of sleep apnea.  It is essential that you get the right machine for your particular condition.  Each type requires a different kind of machine.  Depending on what type of sleep apnea you have, it might not even be a CPAP machine that you need;  you might need an Automatic (APAP) or Bilevel (BiPAP) instead.  So not only is it crucial to have the right settings, but you must also have the right type of machine.

Now let’s learn about the different types of sleep apnea:

  •  Obstructive sleep apnea: This is caused by the throat being too relaxed and blocking airflow.  The brain gets signals to partially wake you up so you can breathe.  You will likely end up making gasping, choking, or snorting sounds because you are starving for air.  Then, you go back to sleep, and the cycle repeats itself.  People with this type of sleep apnea are usually frequent, loud snorers.
  • Central sleep apnea, caused by your brain failing to control your breathing muscles.  This kind of sleep apnea is actually not a medical problem, but a communication problem instead.  It is  usually caused by medical problems with the brainstem.
  • Complex sleep apnea; basically, you have both types of sleep apnea simultaneously.  Some patients who have been treated for obstructive sleep apnea are shown to have central sleep apnea after PAP therapy.  Sometimes, patients continue to stop breathing in the middle of the night after CPAP treatment for obstructive sleep apnea; that is, they went from having OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) to having CSA (central sleep apnea).


In this article, we have explained why it is important to have a prescription when buying a CPAP machine (or really, any machine that treats sleep apnea).  We have also explained the different types of sleep apnea.  So now you know how important it is not only to have a prescription, but to have the right kind of machine based on your particular condition.  We hope that you can get the machine you need and solve your sleep problems once and for all.  Good luck!

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