Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can increase your risk of a heart attack by three times, and of having a stroke by four times, if left untreated. As many as 18 million people in the United States are believed to suffer from sleep apnea; but there is effective treatment in the form of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. Unfortunately, as many as 80% of people who have a CPAP machine and say they use it are actually not using it enough to be safe. In fact, about half of people prescribed them stop using their machine after one to three weeks.
For many, this is simply because they?re having a hard time getting used to wearing a mask while they sleep. And while this is understandable, it?s also dangerous. Not only is it dangerous, it also puts you at risk for losing insurance coverage, as insurers will often stop covering you if you fail to use your CPAP machine at least 70% of the time. Rather than stop using the machine, it?s best to find the right mask for your needs. Read on for the pros and cons of the three main types of CPAP masks.
This is one of the most popular choices: 50% of people with sleep apnea prefer to use it. Nasal pillows have a minimal design that rests on your upper lip and blows air through two tubes in your nose. It?s lightweight, doesn?t obstruct your field of vision if you want to read before bed, allows you to wear glasses, and is especially good for people who are always tossing and turning or have a lot of facial hair.
There are a few drawbacks to nasal pillows, though. For one thing, some people will need a strong airflow to keep their throat open, and pushing that much air through the nose is not very comfortable. Regular use can also make your nose drier and even cause nose bleeds. Finally, if you?re a person who prefers breathing through your mouth, CPAP nasal pillows will feel unnatural.
Full Face Masks
About 45% of sleep apnea sufferers prefer this type of CPAP mask. They cover the whole nose and mouth, using straps to keep the mask in place. These masks work best for people who breathe through their mouths, or for those who are often congested. It?s also the most comfortable mask if your CPAP machine needs to be turned to a high pressure. And while it?s really most ideal for those who sleep on their backs, it can be strapped on well enough even for most restless sleepers.
One drawback to the full face mask is the possibility of air leakage, which often happens near the top of the mask and causes dry and irritated eyes. And the size compared with the nasal pillows means that you can?t wear glasses or watch TV easily while wearing it. It?s also almost impossible for stomach sleepers to wear.
These are triangular masks that fit just over the nose and upper lip. What?s great about this mask is that it has a more natural airflow than nasal pillows and can be turned up to higher pressure settings while still being comfortable. It usually stays in place for people who toss and turn a lot, too, and is good for people with a lot of facial hair, who can sometimes have difficulty getting a good seal on a full face mask. The main drawbacks are that the nasal mask is not ideal for mouth breathers, or for those who are frequently congested. Some users also complain about the pressure of the mask on the bridge of the nose.
The best CPAP mask is the one that you?ll wear most consistently. Your CPAP machine effectiveness depends on the fit of the mask and how consistently you wear it, so be sure to try everything out and get the one you can live with best.