BiPAP vs CPAP Therapy: What’s the Difference?

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Mar 20, 2023
nurse giving patient oxygen - bipap vs cpap title card

BiPAP and CPAP are both non-invasive ventilation therapies used in nursing practice to treat respiratory distress in patients. The choice between BiPAP vs CPAP therapy will depend on the individual patient’s needs and medical conditions.

Jump to Sections

  1. The Difference Between CPAP and BIPAP
  2. BiPAP vs CPAP Machines
  3. What does CPAP stand for?
  4. CPAP Nursing Interventions
  5. What is a BiPAP?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea and respiratory distress in premature infants. It involves delivering a constant level of positive air pressure to the patient’s airway during both inhalation and exhalation. 

The positive air pressure helps to keep the patient’s airway open and prevent it from collapsing. 

Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) therapy is often used to treat respiratory failure, such as in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

It delivers two levels of positive air pressure to the patient’s airway: a higher pressure during inhalation and a lower pressure during exhalation.

Knowing BiPAP and CPAP machines ensures that patients receive the best possible care.

The Difference Between CPAP and BIPAP

BiPAP and CPAP are both non-invasive ventilation therapies used to treat sleep apnea, but they have some key differences.

The main difference between BIPAP and CPAP machines is that BIPAP delivers two levels of air pressure, one for inhalation and one for exhalation, while CPAP delivers a continuous, single level of air pressure throughout the breathing cycle.

BIPAP machines have a higher pressure during inhalation and a lower pressure during exhalation, making breathing easier for some patients who have trouble exhaling against a continuous pressure. BIPAP is also sometimes used to treat conditions like COPD or respiratory failure.

On the other hand, CPAP machines deliver a continuous positive airway pressure throughout the breathing cycle, which helps keep the airway open during sleep and prevents apnea events. CPAP is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

BiPAP vs CPAP Machines

BiPAP and CPAP machines are both effective non-invasive ventilation therapies used to treat respiratory distress, but they have different pressure delivery methods and are often used to treat different conditions. The choice of therapy depends on the patient’s individual needs and the underlying respiratory condition.

They have some similarities, but also some key differences:


  • Usage of a mask or nasal prongs to deliver air pressure to the patient’s airway.
  • Both are non-invasive and can be used to treat a variety of respiratory conditions.
  • Requiring close monitoring of the patient’s respiratory status, vital signs, and response to treatment.
  • Both can be used in a hospital or home setting.


  • BIPAP delivers two different pressure levels, while CPAP delivers a constant level of pressure.
  • BIPAP has a higher pressure during inhalation and a lower pressure during exhalation, while CPAP delivers the same level of pressure during both inhalation and exhalation.
  • BIPAP is often used to treat more severe respiratory distress, such as in patients with COPD or ARDS, while CPAP is often used to treat sleep apnea or less severe respiratory distress.
  • BIPAP may be more uncomfortable or difficult to tolerate for some patients due to the higher pressure during inhalation.

What does CPAP stand for (and how is it used)?

CPAP stands for Continuous positive airway pressure, and it works by giving continuous pressure during inhalation and exhalation.  

They involve using a mask and air pump to push air pressure into the nose and mouth. This keeps the pharynx and tongue from collapsing backward.

CPAP Nursing Interventions

  • Assess the patient’s respiratory status, vital signs, and need for CPAP therapy. The nurse should also assess the patient’s comfort level and tolerance for the CPAP mask.
  • Prepare the equipment to ensure that the CPAP machine is functioning properly and that the appropriate pressure settings have been selected based on the patient’s needs. The nurse should also ensure that the mask or nasal prongs are properly fitted to the patient’s face or nose.
  • Administer the therapy, starting by placing the CPAP mask or nasal prongs on the patient’s face or nose, ensuring a secure and comfortable fit. The nurse should then turn on the CPAP machine and adjust the pressure settings as needed to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.
  • Monitor the patient’s respiratory status, vital signs, and response to therapy. The nurse should also ensure that the mask or nasal prongs remain properly fitted and that the patient is tolerating the therapy.
  • Provide patient education on the purpose of the therapy, how to use and care for the equipment, and how to recognize and report any complications or concerns.
  • Document the therapy in the patient’s medical record, including the duration and pressure settings of the therapy, the patient’s respiratory status and response to therapy, and any complications or concerns.

What is a BiPAP?

BiPAP stands for Bilevel positive airway pressure, and is typically a last line oxygen device before endotracheal intubation. They’re used to treat respiratory conditions such as sleep apnea, COPD, and respiratory failure. 

It’s a positive pressure machine that forcefully pushes air deep into the lungs giving much-needed oxygen while expelling CO2. 

Read here to learn more about how BiPAP is used for impaired gas exchange.

Here’s when nurses should consider using BiPAP on patients:

  • Respiratory Distress: BiPAP may be indicated in patients who are experiencing respiratory distress, such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing.
  • Oxygenation Issues: BiPAP may be used to improve oxygenation in patients with hypoxemia (low oxygen levels) or hypercapnia (high carbon dioxide levels).
  • Respiratory Failure: BiPAP may be used as a non-invasive alternative to mechanical ventilation in patients with respiratory failure.
  • Sleep Apnea: BiPAP may be used to treat sleep apnea in patients who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy.
  • Post-Operative Care: BiPAP may be used in the post-operative care of patients who have undergone certain types of surgery, such as upper abdominal or thoracic surgery.

Nurses should assess patients thoroughly before initiating BiPAP therapy, and should work closely with healthcare providers to ensure that patients receive the appropriate care. 

Proper mask or interface fitting, vital signs monitoring, and patient education are all important components of BiPAP therapy. Nurses should also be familiar with troubleshooting BiPAP machines and be prepared to respond to equipment malfunctions.

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