CPAP Mask Explained

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What is a CPAP mask?  The CPAP mask provides the “seal” to allow the pressurized air flow into the airway, thereby holding it open.  Obstructive sleep apnea patients, who are treated with CPAP, wear a face mask during sleep which is connected to a CPAP machine through a tube.  The CPAP mask forces air into the nasal passages at pressures high enough to overcome obstructions in the airway and stimulate normal breathing. The airway pressure delivered into the upper airway is continuous during both inspiration and expiration.

People who work in sleep medicine often hear the question “what is the best CPAP mask”?  Unfortunately, there is no right answer for this.  In reality, the best CPAP mask is the one that works for you.  Like other choices in life, CPAP mask choice can be complicated and what might seem to be a good CPAP mask at first, turns out not to be the best one.  So, how do you choose?

A variety of CPAP masks exist:  nasal masks, pillows masks, full face masks, oral masks and hybrid masks.  The nasal CPAP mask typically covers only the nose, a “pillows” mask is configured with two cushions, each slightly inserted into the nostrils, a full face mask is one which covers the nose and mouth, and oral mask only covers your mouth and a oral/nasal mask covers your mouth and has nasal pillows for your nose.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these types of CPAP masks…

  • Nasal CPAP Masks
    • Nasal masks combine the minimal design of nasal pillows masks but with slightly more coverage over your nose. The nasal cpap mask cover the entire nose and is held in place with headgear, or with straps around the head. It has a silicon cushion in triangular shape, that helps make the fit more comfortable. If you have air leaks problems, it’s because the nasal mask is too big, is too old, or it has the wrong style for your face.  Facial hair can also cause air leaking with a nasal mask.
  • Nasal Pillows CPAP Masks
    • A nasal pillows mask work best if you wear glasses or read with the mask on, because some nasal pillow systems obstruct vision less than do full face masks. You can even read in bed or watch TV in bed with nasal pillows.  A Nasal Pillows CPAP mask is very easy to put on and take off at night- especially if you have to run to the bathroom. You can easily slip the nasal pillows back on with out loosing your ability to fall back to sleep quickly.  However, they may not work if you are the type of person who moves around a lot in your sleep or if you sleep on your side.
  • Full Face CPAP Masks
    • Full face masks cover more of your face to accommodate people who mostly breathe through their mouths.  It is perfect for the mouth breather, or for those patients suffering from allergies, a deviated septum or nasal congestion.  A  full face mask has a triangular shape. It seals around both the nose and mouth, and is held in place with headgear, or straps.  The full face CPAP mask also contains a  hard plastic  frame which keeps a softer inner cushion in place. This cushion lies against the face and has an important role in maintaining a good seal and comfort.  Full face masks also have head gear which consists of straps and sometimes a forehead brace.
  • Oral CPAP Masks
    • Oral CPAP  masks allow you to use only your mouth to breathe the air from CPAP.  Because it uses just your mouth only, it’s important to have heated humidification to prevent dryness of the oral tissues.  This type of mask is good for patients who breathe mostly through their mouth, who cannot use a full face mask (claustrophobia) or patients with nasal problems (nasal congestion, deviated septum, etc.).
  • Oral/Nasal CPAP Masks
    • Oral/Nasal CPAP masks cover the mouth and has nasal pillows for your nose. So, it doesn’t cause skin irritation by covering your nose.  The hybrid mask is good for mouth-breathing patients who don’t like using a chin strap or full face masks, for patients who are claustrophobic or for CPAP users with irritation on the bridge of the nose.

Almost all masks require some type of headgear to keep them in place.  In general, your CPAP mask should not fit tight on the face.  The CPAP mask should be lightweight and fit the shape and size of the nose and your facial structures.  The CPAP mask should be comfortable and not have leaks.  You may need to make some adjustments to your mask to achieve these goals.

The fact that there are many different companies that make CPAP masks, and that each company makes the “best one”, can be tiring and confusing.  So, don’t become overwhelmed with the choices.

Rather than point you to one specific CPAP mask or another, here are some thoughts and suggestions.

  • When you are first diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) it may be overwhelming. You have to learn how to work a CPAP machine, to review the information that is collected on the machine, to worry about humidification…….then thinking about the right CPAP mask can seem impossible.  It is OK to feel this way!  Do not be worried about asking for help. Everyone adapts to CPAP therapy differently.
  • If you have been struggling with CPAP for a while, finding a different CPAP mask option can be helpful on your road to success, ask your care provider for help with achieving your CPAP usage goal.
  • We have provided a link to the most current mask options, look to see what is available, and remember CPAP masks are always being revised and new ones come onto the market frequently.
  • Some of you might be a CPAP warrior!  Great work! You love your CPAP and mask, but still might want to look for other newer options. You might just find a new favorite!

If your mask is not working out for you, remember… you are in charge of your therapy!   The important point is that you (yes you!) can ask your CPAP equipment provider to help you get the right CPAP mask.

Before you start looking for a new mask there are a few things you need to think about:

  • the size and shape of your face – the mask has to “follow” the shape of your face or nasal orifices to minimize leaks,
  • the shape and size of your nose – to avoid the excess pressure from the mask frame (if it’s a nasal or full face mask),
  • the shape and size of your nasal openings and interior passages – if you want to use nasal pillows, these interfaces have also different shapes and sizes. Find the ones for your nose,
  • your sleep position – some masks work better for side sleeping, others for sleeping on the back.
  • other conditions – are you claustrophobic? Then a full face mask will be difficult to tolerate. Are you a mouth breather? Then nasal mask or nasal pillow will not work without the help of CPAP chin strap.
  • try CPAP mask liners, they can make living with your CPAP much easier.

If you would like professional assistance with CPAP mask selection and fitting, consider purchasing our Professional CPAP Mask Fitting service.  Tell us about your current mask… model & size, what you like about it, what you don’t like about it, what kind of problems you are having with it, etc., and one of our experienced CPAP Therapists will select three mask options for you. We’ll send you all three masks to try and your CPAP Therapist will be available to help with fitting challenges or questions via telephone or video chat.  Each product will also come with an online video showing exactly how to fit each mask.  Use all three masks and keep your favorite.  (Or keep all three at a great discount!). Learn more… (links to offer page)

Finally, a couple of ending thoughts:

  • Nothing about me, without me…… getting the right CPAP mask is your right!  Don’t settle!  Be your own advocate!
  • A good question to ask yourself is “how can I make sure that I am getting the right things that I need, when I need them?”  It is OK to ask your providers these questions and have them explain their choices.  Be empowered!
  • To quote Winston Churchill, “never, ever, ever, ever give up”; remember, there are many CPAP mask options for you!  Be empowered!  Explore, be curious and ask many questions.  It is the responsibility of the clinical professional to listen to you and provide you with what you need.

Information about CPAP mask problems…

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