How to Choose the Perfect Fitting CPAP Mask
Drowsiness, sleeplessness, frequent waking, difficulty breathing, snoring during the night. Any of these symptoms sound familiar? If you have ever experienced such symptoms, looking into CPAP therapy might be just the prescription the doctor ordered!
Often once you complete a prescribed sleep study, your physician will prescribe you CPAP therapy as needed. A mask is needed to accompany the CPAP therapy which delivers a continuous stream of air into your lungs during your sleeping hours. Often, however, finding the perfect fitting mask that both fits your needs, is comfortable, and easy to use can be easier said than done.
Continue reading below to find out more about CPAP therapy, the benefits of it, how to know if you need a CPAP, and tips for finding the perfect fitting mask like determining how you breathe, types of masks available, size options, tips for adjusting your CPAP, and other tips from my own CPAP experience!
What’s a CPAP Anyway?
Why do you use a CPAP?
CPAP is short for “continuous positive airway pressure” and is a machine commonly used by people with breathing issues, most commonly, sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when there are pauses in one’s breathing during the night, often due to the closing of one’s airway. Often, CPAP treatment is prescribed to deliver a continuous flow of air to counteract sleep apnea symptoms and keep one’s airway open throughout the night.
What are the Benefits of CPAP Therapy?
In addition to treating obstructive sleep apnea, once patients begin CPAP therapy they should begin to experience a plethora of benefits, including some or all of the following listed below:
Reduced risk of cardiovascular issues
Reduced risk of vascular events
Improved sleep quality
After most patients begin to experience CPAP therapy they are amazed at the increased quality of sleep they experience compared to before they began therapy.
If you suspect any issues or breathing troubles during the night, it’s worth it to ask your primary physician about it. He or she will most likely refer you to a sleep specialist or neurologist who can prescribe you a sleep study. The sleep study will give you an in-depth look at exactly what is happening to your anatomy during the overnight hours and will help your physician determine if CPAP therapy would be beneficial.
If you score within the range in which CPAP therapy would be needed, your physician will need to write you a prescription. A follow-up sleep study will probably also be prescribed so you can find the right mask and CPAP pressure customized to your needs.
If it is determined that you need therapy, finding the right fitting mask can be a bit of a challenge; but once you find the perfect fit, you should be able to reap the many benefits of a better night’s sleep!
Some of the biggest concerns CPAP mask users have include the following:
Awakening during the night
Use the following checklist to begin narrowing down your mask options and determining the right mask for you:
Do you primarily breathe through your nose?
Do you primarily breathe through your mouth?
How important is minimal face contact to me?
How important is comfort to me?
How important is ease of use to me?
Determining How you Breathe
Are you a nose breather or a mouth breather or both? Knowing exactly how you breathe during the night is important to determine exactly what kind of mask style is going to be right for you.
The only real sure way to know if you are a nasal or mouth breather is to complete a sleep study. Your physician may even recommend a second sleep study during which the sleep technologist will fit you with one or several different types of masks to find just the right fit and determine how your air way travels through your nasal or mouth passages during each sleep cycle.
Types of Masks Available
There are currently several different mask styles on the market. To know which one might be best for you, take a look at the descriptions of the available styles below:
Standard Nasal Mask – This style covers just your nose with a gel type cushion which allows air to travel through your nasal passages. This is the most popular type of mask as many users find it to be comfortable and easy to wear without it getting in the way during sleep. This type of mask is great if you tend to be a nasal-breather only. If you breathe through your mouth, you may not want to choose this style. If you open your mouth using this type of mask, you can often feel like your breath is being taken away and the pressure of your CPAP may increase as air escapes through your mouth.
Nasal Interface (Pillow) Mask – This type of mask has two small “pillows” that fit into each nostril. Usually this style is popular for side sleepers or users who require low pressure in their CPAP.
Full Face Mask – Another popular style covers both the nose and the mouth. This type of mask is great if you tend to breathe through your mouth during the night. When we fall into REM sleep during the night, the body loses all control of their muscles often causing the lower jaw and mouth to drop open. This mask comes in handy for those of us who tend to open their mouths during the night and may find a nasal mask difficult to use.
Oral Mask – This style delivers air through the mouth only. This style is idea for mouth breathers only.
Hybrid Mask - The hybrid Style is ideal for those who want the easy-to-use style of the full face mask but need nasal air delivery.
Determining your Size
Most masks will come with an adjustable strap so you can experiment with finding the right fit. If you choose a nasal mask, you can also purchase a chin strap to prevent your mouth from falling open during REM sleep.
In addition to chin straps, you can also explore other accessory options like headgear, Velcro straps, and quick release clips.
Below is an overview of available accessory options:
Quick Release Clips
Tips for Adjusting to your CPAP
Fit your mask AFTER you lie down. Your face and muscles will lie differently when you are lying down vs. sitting up so to get the ideal fit, you’ll want to place your mask and make final adjustments once your head hits your pillow.
A leaking mask could indicate the wrong size, that it needs tightening, or that you’re using the wrong mask completely. Try tightening or loosening, and if you’re still having leaking issues, talk to you physician about trying out a different mask style.
Consider a CPAP pillow. There are several styles on the market that are ideal for positioning the hose of your mask across the pillow so the position on your face is not disturbed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you feel uncomfortable, tell your sleep technologist or prescribing physician. Ask for a different size. Try a different model or style or ask for a different option.
Give it some time. If you’ve never used a CPAP before or just got a new mask, it will take a few days to get adjusted and feel comfortable while sleeping. Experiment will different positions and positioning the hose across your pillow in different ways to find your ideal comfort level.
When I first tried a mask during my sleep study I woke up during the night with pain from the mask pressing on my teeth and nose. After some adjustments and trying a few different styles, along with keeping an open mind, you can find the right fit for you.