CPAP Travel to High Altitude

by Vicki

I will be traveling to Macchu Picchu in Peru. the elevation in the city of Cuzco where we will be staying for a few days is about 11,000 feet above sea level. How will this affect the operation of my CPAP?


The CPAP machine is affected by a change in altitude, so it will operate differently at higher altitudes such as Macchu Picchu. As you go up in the mountains, the air is thinner and is less air pressure than on the sea level.

The higher the altitude the less pull gravity exerts on the air molecules, therefore the air pressure decreases.

Some people think that if you have less air pressure to press on the airway, the pressure required to keep the airway open should also decrease.

But here is the catch: the CPAP delivered pressure varies directly with the change in air pressure at various altitudes. The higher you go on the mountain, the bigger the pressure drop in CPAP delivered pressure.

In other words, with less air pressure around you, the CPAP machine gives less pressure to open the airway .

Therefore, you will need to increase the CPAP pressure according to those 11,000 feet above sea level. Here is the study which proves that CPAP mask pressures varies systematically with changing altitude.

Fortunately, the new CPAP machines can automatically compensate for altitude changes. Still, I would recommend talking with your CPAP provider or sleep doctor regarding the automatic pressure adjustment for your altitude.

If your CPAP doesn't have automatic function, you may need to adjust it manually, but do this with your doctor. There are some calculations to be made for manual adjustment.

However, given the large changes in altitude and the small changes in pressure, I would think that making changes on one's own would be a risky proposition.

Another issue that can happen to some CPAP machines at higher altitudes is a false leak detection, obviously due to low ambient pressure at this high altitude. The pressure sensor is causing the CPAP to shut itself off every few seconds because of this alarm. Hopefully, if you have a good machine, it won't happen to you.

Bottom line...I would suggest you talk to your sleep specialist about your trip on high altitudes.

Even when the CPAP is making the automatic adjustment for altitude, you can still have problems. It all has to do with the thinner air which does not have as many oxygen molecules.

The brain does not get the signal to breath and you may get central apnea events...even with the use of CPAP. One remedy is to adjust your pressure..not to be done without a doctor's knowledge. Another remedy is to use supplemental oxygen.

I hope it helps. Don't be afraid to comment back.

Some more interesting pages for you to check out:

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Jul 06, 2016
Reason for change in air pressure.
by: Bill G

The reason for the reduction in air pressure as altitude increase is NOT because of a reduction in gravity. It is because air, like water, has weight and the higher you go the less air there is above you. The atmosphere around the earth is only a few miles thick and the higher one is the less the total wight of the column of air above you. It is the same reason for the increase in pressure as you go below the surface of the water in a lake or the ocean.

Aug 31, 2016
Sleep Apnea Machineshave a max altitude limit
by: Anonymous

Sleep Apnea Machines say right in their manual that they can not adjust properly to altitudes above 8500 feet. Welcome to the joys of camping, or visiting higher altitude locations. We live in Denver Colorado.

We have tried staying in the mountains... And find we have to stay at lower altitudes... And day trip to the higher locations. Manufactures of sleep apnea machines do not take higher altitudes into consideration. They're answere is "go sea level"

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