10 Common CPAP Questions Answered
So you’ve been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea and have started wearing a CPAP device at night when you sleep. First of all, congrats to you on taking your sleep apnea seriously and rewarding your body with better sleep at night and more energy during the day. Your bed partner is also pretty excited to be free of the snoring. While wearing a mask to bed every night may seem daunting at first, we’re here to help make the transition to your new CPAP mask and machine as smooth as possible.
Here’s our Q&A with Dr. Margaret Park of Chicago Sleep Health, answering 10 of the most common CPAP questions.
Getting Used to the CPAP Device
Question #1: I’m afraid I’ll never get used to wearing my CPAP, what should I do?
Even if you grow to love it, keep in mind that the first week is always an adjustment. These days, the machines are auto-titrating machines meaning that it will go up on the pressure as it senses more blockage and down on the pressure as it senses less blockage. During that first week, the machine is getting used to your breathing rhythm too.
As you use it, keep in mind what is comfortable and not comfortable about it. Some people need specific masks, pressure timing, humidity level, nasal sprays to open up the airway initially – there are a variety of things that can be tweaked to ensure that it is comfortable for you so keep an open line of communication with your doctor so that the machine can be customized to your comfort level.
I Can’t Handle the Forced Air
Question #2: I can’t tolerate the forced air from my CPAP, how can I fix this?
Talk to your doctor about the timing of the pressure. There are adjustments called ramp timing that allows for a slower increase in pressure during the first 5-45 minutes, and pressure reduction measures to allow for less pressure while exhalaing. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a change of mask. For example, some masks have more surface area to allow for even distribution of higher pressures that will make it easier to tolerate.
My CPAP Causes Dry Mouth
Question #3: My CPAP causes dry mouth and a sore throat, do you have any suggestions?
CPAP machines usually have a humidifier that can be adjusted up or down depending on comfort. A common cause of dry mouth and sore throat is due to “mouth breathing”, which means that the air pressure is going through your nose but right out of your mouth. Full face masks that cover the nose and mouth tend to help with this phenomenon, or possibly using a chin strap with the current nasal mask.
Nasal Congestion When Wearing a CPAP Mask
Question #4: What should I do if I have a stuffy nose or a cold while wearing my CPAP?
If you are very sick, it is really difficult to use the CPAP machine. In those instances, most patients opt to skip a night or two while they recover from their severe cold. Some patients have a back up device like a dental oral appliance device for sleep apnea that can be used in these instances.
The CPAP Machine is Too Loud
Question #5: My CPAP is too loud and keeps me awake or wakes me up. Please help!
Most machines have a white noise type of sound which usually helps with sleep. Other noises may come from a leakage that occurs from poorly fitting masks or possibly from loose hoses or other apparatus from the machine. If the machine itself is making a lot of noise, it probably needs to be serviced or replaced.
I Keep Taking my CPAP Off During the Night
Question #6: I keep accidentally taking off my CPAP at night, can you help with this?
There are several different reasons for taking the mask off in the middle of the night. Some reasons may be related to inappropriate pressure settings, ill fitting masks, another sleep disorder that may be interfering with sleep in general, or interference from other substances (e.g. caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol) that caused sleep disruption during the night. Your sleep doctor should have some insight as to why this is happening, and if not, may possibly order a sleep study to fully evaluate the cause.
My Face Gets Sore Wearing a CPAP
Question #7: My face gets sore after wearing my CPAP, can I make it more comfortable?
The CPAP mask should be snug but not too tight. Often, facial marks and soreness are due to over tightening in one area to compensate for under tightening in another area. A mask fitting is often beneficial. Mask liners can also help provide a comfortable barrier between the silicone of the mask lining and the face. Some people alternate between or amongst different masks to also give their face a break from the same pressure sensation.
I Can’t Fall Asleep With My CPAP Mask
Question #8: I can’t fall asleep wearing my CPAP, what should I do?
It depends on why you cannot fall asleep. If it’s mask discomfort or pressure issues, then changing those parameters is in order. If it’s because of another sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome, treatment of those sleep disorders need to be addressed. Other causes of insomnia at bedtime may include inappropriate bedtimes, poor sleep hygiene, substance interference with sleep (including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol).
I Feel Claustrophobic Wearing a Mask
Question #9: I feel claustrophobic while wearing my mask, are there alternatives?
There are many different mask types to help with claustrophobia! Mask desensitization techniques can also help – basically trying to get used to and familiar with the mask even during the day can help. Other treatment options for sleep apnea are also available including dental devices. A newer surgical option called the hypoglossal nerve stimulator is also an option for some patients.
My Mask Doesn’t Fit Right
Question #10: My CPAP just never fits right, is there a style that tends to fit people best?
The mask should be comfortable. Most people do need a few mask fittings to figure out which they prefer. I also highly recommend a mask fitting session with a professional – either at your doctor’s office or with a sleep technician at the durable medical equipment company that supplied your machine – to learn the best mask placement on the face and how to adjust appropriately.