What Is Bi-Level Ventilation?

A man using a BiPAP breathing mask.
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  • Written By: N. Swensson
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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Bi-level ventilation, also called BiPAP ventilation, is a noninvasive treatment that uses air flowing through a face mask to keep the airways open. The ventilators work by automatically adjusting the flow of air when a patient is inhaling and exhaling. Airflow is reduced during the exhale, making it easier for the patient to breathe normally. This differs from ventilators that deliver a constant airflow pressure without adjustment.

Medical professionals often prescribe ventilators to treat conditions such as sleep apnea, including central sleep apnea in children. Depending on the specific patient's needs, bi-level may be preferred over continuous ventilation since it is better at treating certain conditions and is more easily tolerated by some people. Bi-level ventilation is noninvasive, which means the patient will usually wear a face mask that covers the nose and/or mouth and creates a seal over these areas to make the air flow more easily into the nose. The face mask is usually connected to the ventilator by tubing.

Noninvasive ventilation is most often used for patients who have some ability to breathe on their own or can go for periods of time without using the machine. Invasive ventilation is given through a tracheotomy tube inserted directly into a patient's throat. This type of ventilation is usually appropriate for patients who are unable to breathe on their own and will need the ventilator permanently.


Bi-level ventilation can be used to treat sleep apnea, a condition in which the throat tissue relaxes while a person is sleeping and causes snoring and periods of oxygen deprivation. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to more serious conditions, including stroke and heart attack. These ventilators treat the condition by using airflow to keep the throat open.

A person diagnosed with mild sleep apnea may initially be given a CPAP machine, which produces a constant level of airflow. If he or she has trouble adjusting to the device, a bi-level option may be used instead, and it can also be effective in treating more severe cases of sleep apnea. For problems such as central sleep apnea in children, bi-level ventilation may be the most effective treatment. Central sleep apnea is a condition in which the brain may temporarily stop sending signals to the muscles that control breathing, which causes the child to stop breathing periodically during sleep. It can be a symptom of brain damage or other illnesses.


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Post 2

@JaneAir - I'm glad bi-level ventilation has been helpful for your friend, despite the inconveniences.

It sounds like it would be kind of difficult to date when you have to use one of these things! I mean, you probably couldn't spend the night elsewhere because your machine would be at your house. Also, having to explain it to someone could be a little awkward.

Then again, something like this could help a single lady weed out losers. If a guy isn't accommodating about the sleep mask, he probably wouldn't make a very good partner!

Post 1

I would hardly call having to sleep with a mask on non-invasive! A friend of mine has sleep apnea and she uses bi-level ventilation.

She had a really hard time getting used to it at first. She used to sleep on her stomach, but obviously sleeping with a mask on doesn't allow that.

However, despite the drawbacks to the machine, she is sleeping much better. She used to be really tired all the time because sleep apnea really interrupts your sleep. But now she has much more energy! She said having to wear the mask when she sleeps is well worth it.

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