Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleeping with A CPAP Mask: Problems, Concerns, and Solutions.

Posted by Kevin Phillips

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on Aug 5, 2014 2:08:00 PM

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At The Alaska Sleep Clinic we realize that one of the most important hurdles in CPAP compliance is helping clients find a mask they can comfortably wear every night. For many patients first diagnosed with sleep apnea, wearing a mask regularly to treat their disorder can seem daunting or even intolerable. Fortunately for these patients, CPAP masks come in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes so that just about anyone can find the perfect mask for regular nighttime use.

Regardless of the issues you may have with your current mask, or concerns you may have when picking out your first mask, you can breathe easier knowing that our sleep technicians and durable medical equipment (DME) techs are trained in guiding you through the process of finding the perfect mask. As you're attempting to overcome your problems with CPAP use, it's important to remind yourself of the benefits to your health that can be gained from using your CPAP mask, because with CPAP therapy your sleep disorder can often be treated overnight, and you will experience positive results almost as soon as you begin treatment. 

7 Common Problems and Solutions for CPAP Mask Compliance 

"I get claustrophobic just thinking about wearing the mask."

Claustrophobia, or even discomfort when wearing a mask, is one of the most frequently heard complaints regarding CPAP masks. Having a mask strapped to your face blowing a steady stream of pressurized air into your airways can be alarming and take some time getting used to. Here are some of our recommendations for claustrophobic patients:
  • nasal pillow maskMany claustrophobic patients have a hard time coming to terms with having to wear a mask that covers their mouth and parts of their face. For these patients, we recommend trying a nasal pillow mask. Nasal pillow masks are much smaller and lighter than other mask types and minimize the amount of weight and material on one's face. They work by forming a seal at the base of the nostrils that pump air directly into the nose through prongs, making breathing feel more natural and comfortable without the confined feeling typically experienced with wearing other mask types.

  • adjusting to cpap masks

    When you're testing different mask types as you find the right fit and style, try holding the mask up to your face without putting on the head straps while the pressurized air blows. This way you can get comfortable with the air pressure without the discomfort of the mask being strapped to your head. Once you've acclimated to the air pressure and feel more comfortable with the mask on your face, try strapping on the headgear and see how it feels.

  • When you're at home, try wearing the mask (disconnected from the machine) around the house. You can walk around, do chores and activities, or watch TV while you get used to the fit of the mask without the airflow. This method allows you to take your mind off of wearing the mask instead of dwelling on your discomfort of wearing it.

  • At night, before your bedtime, put on the mask and turn the machine's ramp on so that you start with a low-pressure airflow as you read a book or watch TV, allowing you time to adjust to the building air pressure.

  • Try napping with the mask on so that you get used to the mask every time you sleep, no matter where you are.

  • If you find yourself still feeling anxious wearing the mask or even thinking about wearing the mask, talk to your primary care physician about anti-anxiety drugs.

"My Mask doesn't fit right."

At The Alaska Sleep Clinic we understand that getting the perfect fitting mask is critical in CPAP compliance. That's why as part of our SleepN program we offer our patients unlimited mask trials and fittings. At any time if your mask doesn't feel right, you can come in and exchange it for a different mask. Our DME techs are trained in assessing your needs and comfort levels to help you in selecting the perfect mask. 

If you have recently gained or lost a significant amount of weight, your mask may no longer fit the contours of your face. If you experience such changes, talk to your DME tech about getting a different sized or shaped mask.

If you have a beard that may be causing air leakage, consider trimming your facial hair or trying a nasal mask or pillow. And if you're a mouth breather with a beard, use a chinstrap in conjunction with a nasal pillow. 

frustrated cpap wearer

"I get frustrated with having to wear my mask every night."

It's perfectly understandable that you may find wearing a mask every night (probably for the rest of your life) annoying or disheartening. When you find yourself getting frustrated or upset with your CPAP equipment, take a time out, and remind yourself of the benefits to your health that the equipment is giving you. Don't dwell on what the comfort the mask is taking away from you, but rather, remind yourself of the health benefits you are receiving, and the risks you are dodging by wearing your mask.

"I have difficulty getting used to the air pressure."

For some users, especially those with high-pressure settings, being able to tolerate the forced air pressure can be quite the hurdle. However, most newer CPAP machines come with a "ramp" feature that when initially turned on, begins with a lower, more tolerable pressure as it slowly builds up to the required pressure for nighttime sleep.

If you find yourself having difficulty exhaling against the incoming air, ask your sleep tech about CPAP with C-Flex or  BiPAP machines that have sensors built in that know when you are exhaling, and offer pressure relief during expiration.

"I wake up with a dry or stuffy nose after using my CPAP."

Current CPAP machines come with a heated humidifier that combat dryness of the nose and airways. These humidifiers are adjustable so that you can play with the settings to find the perfect humidification settings for your needs. 

If you have a CPAP with a humidifier already, and still experience chronic dryness, you may want to consider an over-the-counter nasal saline spray to use before bedtime, or ask your primary care provider for a prescription nasal steroid spray. Also, make sure to check your mask fit as air leaks can dry out your nose.

"I find the sounds of the machine annoying."

Older CPAP machines may have a humming or vibrating sound that can be annoying and disturb your sleep. Fortunately, newer CPAP machines are extremely quiet and barely register above a whisper. If the noise is bothersome, ask your provider about getting a newer machine or move your existing machine farther from your bed.

cpapmax pillow"The tube from the mask to the machine gets in my way at night."

If you find that the air hose is getting in the way at night, consider purchasing a CPAPmax pillow to sleep with at night. This pillow is specially designed for CPAP users with large cutouts on either side so the tube doesn't lie across the pillow. The pillow also has a tube tether to secure the hose and reduce drag on the mask and seal disruption.

An alternative to the CPAPmax pillow is to get a beaded pillow that easily shapes to the contours of your head and the tubing as well.

Patience is a virtue when it comes to CPAP compliance

Regardless of what your CPAP mask problems are, the underlying keys to success are: time and patience. Getting used to your CPAP device can be frustrating and difficult. It's important that you take the time to find the right mask and machine, as you will most likely be using CPAP therapy for the rest of your life. Don't be afraid to ask our DME techs to try out more masks, even if you've been through a bunch already. At The Alaska Sleep Clinic, our goal is to help you get the treatment you need for your disorder, and that  includes working closely with our techs to find the perfect mask that you can wear every single night. However, once you do find the right mask it's important that you wear it every night to avoid obstructive sleep apnea related complications, such as heart problems, stroke, and daytime fatigue.

Compliance is key to successful CPAP therapy, and finding the right mask is critical in getting patients compliant. So if the mask fits, wear it, and experience life-changing results to your health and quality of life within just a few nights of using CPAP therapy. 

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Topics: CPAP compliance, CPAP Masks

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