Sleep apnea is a pretty dangerous condition, as it may lead to heart failure and stroke. Nocturia (nighttime incontinence) is also extremely common in sleep apnea, with one study revealing that over 84% of patients with sleep apnea reported frequent nighttime urination while 82% acknowledged snoring.
The good news is, you can minimize its effects on your health with CPAP therapy.
Normally, your doctor will help you select a suitable type of device. But when it comes to finding the right CPAP mask, you are likely to be all by yourself.
Don’t worry, though.
Here’s everything you need to know about CPAP masks and how to use them.
Main CPAP Mask Types and Their Features
First things first. Before you dive into the market, you need to know what it can offer you. So, let’s take a brief look at all types of CPAP masks available today.
A full-face sleep apnea mask is the largest one available on the market. As the name implies, it covers your entire face starting from the nose bridge and down to the chin bone. This type of mask will be the best option if you:
- Breathe through your mouth. Since a full-face mask covers not only the nose but your mouth too, any mouthbreather can use it to get the most of their therapy, without training themselves to breathe through their nose. Actually, it’s the only option for mouthbreathers that doesn’t require buying any additional gear.
- Sleep with your mouth open. People with weak jaw muscles who cannot keep their mouth closed during sleep will get more comfort wearing a full-face mask, as its design won’t allow their jaw to drop. Besides, some models of this type may come with a chin strap for a more precise fixation.
- Suffer from allergies or chronic sinusitis. Nasal congestions caused by allergies or frequent colds can make it literally impossible to breathe through the nose. A full-face mask can supply you with humid air from the CPAP device (assuming it comes with a humidifier), which may alleviate the congestion. But again, if it’s still difficult to breathe through the nose, with this mask, you can always breathe through your mouth.
- Need to use high-pressure settings on your device. As full-face masks cover a larger area, the pressurized air distributes more evenly, so you won’t experience discomfort using higher pressure.
Despite all the benefits, a full-face mask may not suit as many as 63% of sleep apnea patients. That’s the percentage of people undergoing CPAP therapy who have claustrophobic tendencies, according to a study. A full-face mask, due to its bulkiness, is considered the least desired type for such people, as it can provoke claustrophobic episodes and may even make patients abort therapy because of that.
Now, if you are an active sleeper, you, too, may want to look for a less bulky type of CPAP mask that will not press your face or move when you’re changing positions.
Also, a full-face mask is unsuitable for individuals with large amounts of facial hair. Your beard and/or mustache create an uneven surface, so the mask simply won’t hold in place and may start leaking. However, full face cpap masks are good for side sleepers. Here is the list of great full face cpap masks for side sleepers.
Nasal masks are more compact compared to full-face ones. They only cover your nose, from the bridge to the upper lip, and have the following advantages:
- More comfortable feel. A nasal mask delivers the air into your upper airways in a more natural way and can be used by individuals who breathe through their nose but need high-pressure settings.
- Different shapes and sizes. Nasal masks come in various forms, so you can find a fit for almost any bone structure.
- Better fixation. A properly chosen nasal mask will stay in place even if you move a lot in your sleep, as it can adapt to nearly any sleep position.
However, this type of CPAP mask also has several drawbacks. It won’t make a good fit for individuals with chronic rhinitis or nasal congestions, as pressurized air may aggravate these conditions.
Also, tight fixation can put pressure on the nose bridge and cause redness and irritation in this area, along with painful symptoms.
Nasal Pillow Masks
Also referred to as nasal cradle masks, these masks are even more compact, covering only the lower part of the nose. Such design eliminates contact with the nose bridge and minimizes unpleasant sensations in this area. Also, it makes these masks compatible with any sleeping style, including even stomach sleeping.
A nasal pillow mask delivers the pressurized air right into your nostrils through paired tubes. Thanks to direct airflow and minimal headgear, it may suit people with claustrophobic tendencies. Plus, it doesn’t block the sight, which makes it a great fit for individuals who wear glasses or love to read and watch TV before bed.
However, since a nasal pillow mask delivers the air directly into your nostrils, it may cause excessive dryness and nosebleed episodes, especially if your CPAP device doesn’t have a humidifier. Along with that, it may not tolerate high-pressure settings and may simply fall off your nose during the night.
Other Things to Think About
As you can see, no CPAP mask is suitable for everyone, and you have to rely on your own needs only.
Now, when it comes to using your mask, there are some other things you need to consider to ensure that it will be the best fit for you:
- Sleeping position. Your sleeping style is one of the main factors determining the mask types that will suit you. Solid back sleepers can conveniently use any type of sleep apnea mask. Side and mixed sleepers should opt for those that will stay in place when they shift positions – for example, nasal masks. Finally, stomach sleepers, who typically sleep with their face buried into the pillow, will benefit from compact designs, such as a nasal cradle mask.
- Additional straps. If you tend to open your mouth during sleep or are a mouthbreather, but you can’t use a full-face CPAP mask – whether it’s due to claustrophobia or for any other reason – purchasing chin straps may save you. They will help keep your mouth closed and aid in breathing through your nose.
- Pressure settings on your CPAP device. The more severe your sleep apnea is, the higher the pressure settings on your CPAP device should be. However, not all types of masks are compatible with high pressure. Thus, individuals with severe sleep apnea may need a larger mask, such as a full-face one, as it can distribute the pressure more evenly without creating uncomfortable sensations.
- Bone and facial structure. The length and width of your nose and cheekbones, the amount of facial hair, and some other things about your face will affect the type and size of the CPAP mask you need. Luckily, most manufacturers today offer a printable sizing guide to their masks. You can use it when you come to the pharmacy, to choose the right size.
So, there you have it! Our guide to how to choose and use a CPAP mask for sleep apnea. If you have similar symptoms but have seen your doctor who has confirmed you do not have sleep apnea, we recommend looking into the following snoring aids.