Finding out that you have sleep apnea can be an intimidating process. Not only do you have a new diagnosis, but now you are being introduced to several treatment options for which there are many variables. Assuming that you and your doctor have chosen CPAP as your therapy option, your next step will be choosing a CPAP mask.
CPAP masks are the interface between the sleep apnea patient and the CPAP machine, and there are many types of sleep apnea masks to choose from. Most sleep apnea masks are made of plastic, silicone, or gel-like materials. Some are made of fabric and other hybrid materials. They usually have adjustable straps that help to secure the mask to the face. CPAP masks often cost between $30 – $150.
There is no one-size-fits-all with sleep apnea masks. The continuous positive airway pressure interface must be personalized to your face and to your comfort level. Once you have a CPAP prescription from your doctor, you should meet with an equipment professional that specializes in CPAP masks. You can then try on different sleep apnea masks to find the one that fits you best and you find the most comfortable.
Different Types of CPAP Masks
CPAP masks all work in the same way — they deliver air from the CPAP machine through a hose to your airway. This keeps your airway from collapsing during sleep and prevents obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Masks come in a variety of fits, but mainly fall into three different types:
- Nasal Pillows or Prongs which fit directly into nostrils.
- Nasal CPAP Masks, which fit over the nose only.
- Full-Face Masks, which cover your nose as well as your mouth.
You do not need a physician prescription to buy a new mask, but it’s important to check with a professional to make sure that you choose the correct type of mask and to make sure it fits properly. Patients that have improper masks tend to be non-compliant with their CPAP therapy.
Finding the Right CPAP Mask For You
The reality with sleep apnea masks is that the best mask for you is the one that you feel comfortable with. Masks often come in several sizes for different shaped faces and noses. Try on lots of masks to find the best option for your needs and preferences. There are some considerations you may want to keep in mind when choosing your sleep apnea mask.
Many people breathe with their mouths open during sleep. If you use a nasal CPAP mask and the mouth opens during sleep, air will follow the path of least resistance and exit through the mouth, thus reducing its efficacy.
Nasal resistance and obstruction can pose a problem with CPAP when using a nasal mask. For people with challenging nasal passages, a full-face mask might be indicated.
Mustaches and beards can interfere with the seal between your CPAP mask and your face. Some masks are designed for people who have a lot of facial hair.
Many new masks, like the DreamWear CPAP mask, use the least amount of material and attaching strap possible to deliver air. This allows for a more natural feel during wake and sleep, which can help patients who suffer from claustrophobia.
Know that the CPAP mask you choose this year may be different than the mask you use next year. Your choice of mask is not a permanent decision. In fact, you will likely get a new mask yearly, or maybe more often, since sleep apnea masks are not designed to last forever.
How to Get Your CPAP Mask Properly Fitted
Wearing a sleep apnea mask is a very individualized process. Most sleep professionals recommend working with an experienced team of sleep experts. Many sleep companies will assess your facial dimensions and show you several mask options.
After you select a sleep apnea mask, you will usually try it on with the CPAP machine turned on. This allows for proper fit and air leak assessment. It is important that the mask does not leak significant amounts of air while you are wearing it.
CPAP Mask Care
Once you have picked your CPAP mask, make sure to keep it clean with soap and water after every use. There are several popular CPAP cleaner machines that can facilitate this process.
Sleep apnea masks should be replaced a few times per year. They are generally not designed to last forever. The rubber/silicone wears out and breaks down. The seal between the mask and face will become compromised over time.
Problems with CPAP Masks
Leaky Sleep Apnea Mask
If your mask is not fitted properly or if you don’t put it on correctly, it can leak around the edges. The leak is not harmful, but it could prevent the prescribed levels of pressure from being delivered. Plus, a leaky mask could be noisy, which may bother your bedmate.
Solution: If you notice air leaks, you may not have a properly fitted mask. Also, be sure you’re adjusting the mask right when you put it on at night. One option to consider is switching from a face mask that covers both the nose and mouth to a nasal mask. A nasal mask just covers the nose, which means there is less surface area to cover and less potential for leaks.
Wearing a sleep apnea mask that covers your mouth and nose can make some people feel claustrophobic, especially since it is something you’re not used to. If you feel anxious, it can be difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep.
Solution: If the CPAP mask you’re using makes you feel confined, consider using a nasal mask. If that does not do the trick, you can try nasal pillows. Nasal pillows are small, soft prongs that go into your nose without covering your mouth.
Pressure sores are possible if your CPAP mask is too tight. The most common site of a pressure sore is the bridge of the nose. Keep in mind, a sleep apnea mask should be tight enough to avoid too much air from leaking out around it. But if it is too tight, it can be uncomfortable.
Solution: When you first start using CPAP, you’ll be fitted for a mask to determine what size and style works best. Make sure you select something that feels comfortable. In some cases, the solution may be as simple as using a different size or style of mask. In addition, nasal pads are available that cushion the nose and help prevent irritation. The pads are usually made of a gel material and are placed on the bridge of the nose under the mask.
The sleep apnea mask is arguably one of the most important parts of the treatment components. Talk to your sleep doctor about finding the best CPAP mask for you.
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