So you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea and find yourself in the company of a new roommate, the CPAP machine. It may not seem like it, but that little machine will be responsible for helping you live a longer and healthier life. However, it can only save your life if you use it. Doctors report that the compliance rate (Using the machine at least 4 hours a night 70% of the time) is only around 50%. The number one reason for this is due to issues with the mask. Using a leaking or ill-fitting mask can actually disturb your sleep more that help it. In this article we will explore the different types of masks available and how you can pick the best CPAP mask for yourself.
Deciding on the right CPAP mask for you means taking several factors into account. First of all, how big does it need to be? As a general rule, women need a smaller size than men. Secondly, how do you breathe when you sleep? Are you a mouth or nose breather? Thirdly, what position do you sleep in? On you back, side, stomach? And finally, do you suffer from any other issues, specifically anxiety or claustrophobia? Keeping all of these things in mind will help you decide which of the three main types of mask will work best for you.
How to Pick The Best CPAP Mask:
3 Types of Masks
- Full Face Masks
- Nasal Masks
- Nasal Pillows
Best CPAP Mask: Full Face Masks
Full face CPAP masks are the largest profile masks on the market. They cover the nose and mouth completely, This allows you to breathe out of either. Often the full face mask is the default option that doctors or CPAP suppliers will go with. This is precisely because it works with both mouth and nose breathers. However, some people find the full face mask is too big or intrusive.
The full face mask may be a good fit for you if:
- You breathe through your mouth:
- A full face mask is the best (and only) option if you are strictly a mouth breather.
- You require a high pressure setting for the CPAP machine:
- The full face mask has a wider surface area. This means that the air pressure won’t feel as intense.
- You experience issues breathing through your nose:
- Frequent colds, sinus issues or allergies can make it difficult for you to breathe through your nose. In these cases, a full face mask may be the answer.
- Similarly, structural issues in the nose caused by trauma, surgeries or a deviated septum can also make nasal breathing difficult.
- You sleep on your back:
- Sleeping on your back is the perfect position for a full face mask.
- People that sleep on their backs move less throughout the night, certainly lowering the risk of the mask coming off.
Drawbacks of a full face mask:
- Higher chance of leaks:
- Full face masks have a greater surface area. This larger surface area results in a greater chance of a leak. Please note, a higher chance of a leak does not mean that it will leak.
- Irritated or dry eyes:
- If a leak does develop and it is near the eyes, just having the air blowing can cause dry eyes even when they are closed.
- Size of the mask:
- A full face mask is the largest type of CPAP mask. This can be troublesome you if you sleep on your stomach or side because of the bulky nature of the mask.
- The large size can also be an issue if you suffer from claustrophobia or get anxious easily.
- Trouble with surroundings:
- Because the full mask covers more of your face, you may find it more difficult to wear glasses, watch TV, or read while wearing it.
Best CPAP Mask: Nasal Face Masks
Nasal masks are probably the most common type of CPAP mask. They have a smaller profile than full face masks, only covering the nose and not the mouth. These masks can also handle a higher pressure setting and work well if:
- You are a restless sleeper (you move around a lot):
- Nasal masks are not as bulky as full face masks letting you shift your sleeping position more easily.
- You require a higher pressure setting for the CPAP machine:
- Much like the full face masks, the nasal masks can make a higher setting feel like there is less air pressure.
- Larger cushions allow more volume of air, therefore you feel less “pressure” through your nose.
- You are picky. Because there is a larger selection of masks to choose from:
- Nasal CPAP masks are the most popular and most commonly used masks. Therefore, nasal masks have the largest selection of brands and styles to choose from.
- You prefer a natural airflow feel:
- The airflow that comes from a nasal mask is “indirect” air. As opposed to the nasal pillow (discussed next) which forces air directly into the nostrils. Some people don’t like the feeling of air being pushed directly into the nose so the nasal mask is a good option.
Drawbacks of a nasal face mask:
- If you’re a mouth breather:
- A person who is mainly a “mouth-breather” will not benefit from a nasal mask as they only cover and seal the area around the nose.
- Pressure points on the skin:
- Some people report experiencing pressure on the nose and forehead resulting in irritation and redness to the skin.
- Chronic allergy sufferers or people with nasal obstructions:
- If you cannot breathe out of your nose due to nasal trauma, obstructions or even colds and allergies a nasal mask may not work for you.
- Other medical conditions:
- If you have a deviated septum, narrow or collapsed nasal passages, a nasal mask may not be the best CPAP mask for you.
The nasal pillow is the lowest profile, least intrusive type of CPAP mask on the market today. They are designed to rest comfortably directly on your nostril entrance. The soft silicone or gel cushion creates a seal around the nostrils which directs the pressurised air directly into your nose. Nasal pillows are lightweight, allowing for minimal contact with your face.
Nasal pillows are beneficial if:
- You toss and turn a lot while sleeping:
- The nasal pillow is much more compact than nasal and full face masks. This makes it less intrusive for people who change their sleeping positions often during the night.
- You are a nose breather:
- Nasal pillows create a seal directly with the user’s nostrils. This provides direct airflow to the nasal passages.
- You feel claustrophobic or have anxiety wearing a larger mask:
- The larger CPAP masks can cause users to feel a bit more “trapped” while wearing them. Nasal pillow masks are lightweight and compact, therefore reducing the claustrophobic feel.
- You have a lot of facial hair:
- Facial hair can interfere with the seal on a full face or nasal mask. This can cause the mask to leak. Because the nasal pillow creates a seal directly on the nostril, it is the prefered mask for those with facial hair.
Drawbacks of a nasal pillows:
- If you require a high pressure setting:
- CPAP users that require a higher-pressure setting may not be compatible with the nasal pillows. The pillows create a direct seal with your nostrils, as a result all the air pressure is going directly through your nose.
- Possible nasal discomfort:
- Even with a lower pressure setting, the entirety of the airflow is going through the nose, some people find that feeling annoying or uncomfortable. Additionally, because the air is flowing directly into the nostrils, some people complain of a dry nose, irritation and even nosebleeds.
- If you are a mouth breather:
- Because nasal pillows only involve the nostrils and not the mouth. If you breathe primarily through your mouth, the nasal pillow would not be the best CPAP mask for you.
Common Mask Issues and How to Deal With Them
Wearing a CPAP mask for the first time can feel completely unnatural. Even the best CPAP mask will feel funny the first few nights. The air pressure from the machine will take some getting use to. You’ll be able to feel the sensation of the pressurized air hit your face, and for some people this can feel suffocating. The mask itself will also take time to get use to. initially it can feel tight and uncomfortable when wearing it. Here are some tips to help you get used to your CPAP machine and mask:
If you feel claustrophobic: For some patients, the full face mask’s design and size can be overwhelming because it covers a lot of your face and can be a little heavy. If this makes you feel claustrophobic, you may want to try a different mask type. Specifically the nasal pillow. Because they fit directly into the base of your nose, they are much smaller and lighter than a full face mask. The disadvantage is that they do not work well for mouth breathers.
You can also try using the ramp feature of your CPAP machine. The ramp feature starts the air pressure out low, and gradually increase the pressure over time. This reduces the sensation of pressure on your face when wearing a CPAP mask.
You can also get use to wearing the mask by putting it on while you are awake. It may sound funny, but wearing the mask while you are just laying around watching TV can get your body use to the feeling of having it on.
I have a leaky mask, skin irritation or pressure sores: A leaky or an ill-fitting mask is probably the most common complaint when using a CPAP machine. The amount of pressure the machine provides is prescribed by your doctor. A leaky mask means that you aren’t getting all the therapeutic benefit you need. Leaky masks can also cause dry eyes and be irritating to your skin.
If you wear glasses during the day, you probably develop indentation marks on the bridge of your nose where the glasses rest.
These indentations can cause the mask to leak air pressure directly into your eyes. You can minimize this by not wearing glasses for a few hours before bed. If that’s not possible, you can try a mask liner or a different mask type like a nasal pillow.
Don’t hesitate to contact your CPAP supplier to discuss the situation. They can be very helpful in pointing you to a good solution. After all, helping you get the best CPAP mask means that you’ll use the machine and they can continue to supply the accessories.
NOTE: If you develop skin deterioration or sores, such as on your nose, tell your doctor promptly.
If you have sensitive skin or a silicone allergy: If you are prone to skin irritation or are allergic to the silicone in the standard masks, you can try using mask liners as a barrier. You can also talk to your CPAP supplier about getting a cloth style mask that doesn’t use silicone.
If wearing the mask gives you dry mouth: This is a very common if you breathe through your mouth at night or sleep with your mouth open. You may benefit from using a full face mask as well as the humidifying feature of your CPAP machine.
You can also use a chin strap to hold your mouth closed while you sleep.
Many people also find relief using Biotene Moisturizing Oral Rinse for Dry Mouth
If you get headaches in the morning: Both headaches and ear problems can be caused by a few different things. Some of the most common include.
The straps on the mask are too tight. This can cause irritation as well as the user experiencing headaches in the morning. Try loosening the straps while still providing a seal.
Air pressure being too high or too low. If the pressure is too low, you won’t be getting the full therapeutic benefits of the CPAP machine. This means that your blood oxygen levels may still be too low. Low blood oxygen levels can cause morning headaches.
Conversely, if the pressure is too high then headaches can occur when the sinuses are blocked. This creates a situation where there is a pressure differential between each of the sinus cavities. These pressure differences can be felt as a sinus headache when an individual wakens in the morning.
In either case, if you have persistent headaches after using a CPAP machine you need to consult your physician.
My CPAP keeps getting water in the hose: Again, this is a fairly common problem. It happens because the room temperature is cooler than the humidified air passing through the tube. Because cooler air won’t hold as much moisture, water falls out as condensation. This process is known as “rainout.” The only way to stop this is to prevent the air from cooling as it travels through the hose. This can be done one of two ways.
#1. Use a hose cover. A hose cover is like a coat for your CPAP hose. It traps the heat inside the tube and prevents it from escaping. This, in turn, prevents the moisture from falling out of the air, which prevents the moisture and the splashes.
#2. You could also opt for a heated hose. A heated hose uses heating coils to warm the air inside the tubing so that it can hold more moisture, which in turn prevents the condensation from forming.
If you have a small head or face: Try the selection of CPAP masks made for women. They are available in nasal, full face and nasal pillow. These masks are designed with smaller headgear, frames, and cushion sizes to accommodate small facial features.
If you have a beard or mustache: Facial hair is a major cause of leaks, especially if you have a full face mask. Try a nasal pillow mask system that seals around the nostrils or a hybrid if you need the full face feature. Avoid standard nasal and nasal cradle masks because they will be prone to excessive leaks from a poor seal.
How to Pick The Best CPAP Mask: Conclusion
Using a CPAP machine can be frustrating as it will take time to get use to it. But it’s important that you stick with it. CPAP treatment is essential to avoiding complications from obstructive sleep apnea such as heart, kidney and vascular problems as well as excessive daytime sleepiness.
CPAP therapy can make a profound difference in your life and health. So getting off on the right foot by selecting the right CPAP mask can mean the difference between life and death.
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