The Pros & Cons of Travel CPAP Use for Sleep Apnea

Portability, battery options are attractive—at a price

Travel CPAP options include DreamStation Go from Philips Respironics
Brandon Peters, MD

Travel-sized versions of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are popular for the treatment of sleep apnea. These devices include the ResMed AirMini, Philips Respironics DreamStation Go, Somnetics Transcend, Human Design Medical Z1, and others. What are the pros and cons of using travel CPAPs? Consider some of the potential benefits and whether the cost is justified for a device that can more easily be used with travel—including while camping with an integrated battery.

What Is the Size of the Travel CPAP?

The first question that comes up when considering a portable CPAP device is: How big is it, really? Fortunately, those who use travel CPAP devices will discover the reduced size makes a huge difference. Many are as small as an alarm clock or smartphone. Here are some of the specifications for popular models:

  • AirMini: It is the smallest available model at 5.4 inches in length, 3.3 inches in width, and 2.1 inches in height. It weighs 10.6 ounces.
  • DreamStation Go: 5.9 inches in length and width and 2.3 inches in height. The optional battery increases the length by 4.8 inches. It weighs 1.88 pounds without the battery, and 3.41 pounds with it.
  • Transcend: 6.1 inches in length, 3.5 inches in width, and 2.8 inches in height. It weighs 16 ounces (1 pound).
  • Z1: 6.5 inches in length, 3.3 inches in width, and 2.0 inches in height. It is the lightest and weighs 10 ounces.

    Are Batteries Available and How Long Does a Charge Last?

    With the current exception of the AirMini, each of the most popular travel models has the option of running the device off a battery. These are available for purchase at an additional cost. The amount of time the charge will last will vary based on the pressure that is being delivered and the potential use of accessory components like a heated humidifier.

    As an example, the DreamStation Go has a battery that will reportedly last for two nights when the CPAP pressure is set to 10 centimeters of water pressure (and presumably longer for settings lower than that). In practical use, the battery for most models may be expected to last one to two nights with standard use.

    The lithium ion battery used with travel CPAP machines is rechargeable. Unfortunately, the device will be of no use until a power source can be accessed. This may make it less than desirable to be carrying into the woods on a hiking or camping trip that lasts more than a night or two.

    What Are the Setting Options for Travel CPAP?

    Each of the available models has an AutoCPAP option with default pressure settings that can range from 4 to 20 centimeters of water pressure. These settings will be prescribed and refined by your sleep medicine provider to optimize therapy. As these are medical devices, a prescription is required to obtain the equipment.

    What Are the Pros of Using Travel CPAP?

    Travel CPAP machines have some features that may make them an attractive option for use while away from home. Many possess similar design elements that reflect the standard models. There have also been some favorable improvements:

    • It is quiet. As the technology for CPAP machines, the expectation is that these devices will create virtually no noise. This is a big step forward from older models and true across competing manufacturers.
    • Slim line tubing is sleek. Some devices feature smaller slim line tubing that reduce the size of the standard CPAP tubing. This makes it easier to pack. It also may add some flexibility and ease of movement during sleep. It does alter the flow dynamics (smaller tubes will increase air speed and affect pressure), and as such there is a programmed setting to accommodate for this change.
    • Various mask options exist for some models. With standard tubing connectors, it is possible to use a favored mask. Unfortunately, the AirMini allows only a restricted set of masks (specifically variants of the AirFit series) due to the humidifier design. Any mask can be used with the tubing used by the other devices. If you have a favorite mask, this may be a deal-maker.
    • Integrated displays on some models make reviewing settings and usage data a breeze. Though it does impact the size, the visual display on some devices eliminates the need to use a smartphone app. This allows for easier changes to be made by the durable equipment provider, physician, and user. It is often instantly responsive to touch.
    • Get a battery and take it with you anywhere. Most models are designed to have an integrated battery. It is safe to take on a plane without restriction.

    What Are the Cons of Using Travel CPAP?

    There are some reasons that you might not want to consider the purchase of a travel CPAP. These may range from relatively minor nuisances to significant detriments that may steer you toward alternatives.

    • Pressures may not be consistently effective. The pressure variance and algorithm responsiveness may mean the device does not work quite as well. This may require a tighter range and even higher pressures to be effective. As a result, you may need closer attention in the early use. Setting changes will require the input of your sleep physician.
    • There may be no humidifier. For users who have stopped using the added water, this may not matter. For those who experience nosebleeds or a persistent dry mouth, this could be a deal-breaker. If nasal saline spray is unable to make up for the difference, the dryness may undermine the therapy. There’s a reason these devices ultimately integrated humidifiers into all the standard models; the absence is a problem.
    • Button responsiveness is not guaranteed. The buttons on some models seem hard to push at times and are inconsistently responsive. The navigation menu may seem clunky in some models, especially as compared to other streamlined systems.
    • The cost—often selling from $500 to around $900—may be a deterrent. There is a range of options, from higher-end models to the inexpensive (and frankly lackluster) lower end of the market. More expensive than many standard CPAP models, the convenience comes with cost. Insurance will typically only cover a new CPAP device (even travel versions) every five years, so most of this expense will come out of pocket.
    • The size of the device, though reduced from the standard version, may still be too large to be an attractive travel option. When the battery is connected, the weight and size may become undesirable. Some of the travel devices lose their appeal surrounding the one feature they should dazzle with: portability.

    A Word From Verywell

    If you are interested in a travel CPAP machine, there are some great options to explore. Many have a degree of reliability that has been earned from companies with years of experience in designing and manufacturing these devices. Though there have been significant strides forward with the latest technology, there are still some areas for further improvement. Some features could be improved with updated software, but there are some hardware issues that may persist. Consider your needs and whether a portable travel CPAP matches your goals of therapy and adventure.

    Any products mentioned in this article that were personally reviewed by the author have been returned to the supplier at the conclusion of the review period.

    Sources:

    Human Design Medical Z1

    Philips Respironics DreamStation Go

    ResMed AirMini

    Somnetics Transcend

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