CPAP Tips-Making Your CPAP Experience a Positive One

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

March 15, 2010

better sleep, other disorders, snoring


That thing looks so uncomfortable. You expect someone to sleep with it on?

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, one of the treatments that your doctor has probably suggested is CPAP. To get a good night’s sleep regularly, CPAP should be used every night. CPAP should stop your respiratory disturbances (apneas) and you will continue to sleep soundly throughout the night. No more apneas means no more awakenings and disrupted sleep. Snoring should also be stopped and that means your bed partner will sleep soundly too. Although it may seem awkward at first, give it a chance. It takes a bit of time to get used to sleeping with the device. Try practicing with the CPAP unit during the day without trying to sleep. Use it while you are reading or watching TV. Use it for short periods at a time until you get used to it. Once you experience the benefits of using CPAP, you won’t want to be without it!

Making Your CPAP Experience a Positive One

CPAP is one of the most effective treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. But, just like other treatments, there can be some minor problems. We have put together a list of common CPAP problems. For each problem, we offer a remedy. However, if you find that your problems recur, then see your CPAP supplier or sleep doctor.

Nasal Discomfort:  Nasal stuffiness is one of the most common complaints with CPAP. It often occurs in the beginning, when your nose is getting used to the airflow of the CPAP device. Often this stuffiness disappears within a month. An itchy, runny nose, nosebleeds and dryness can be fixed by applying a few drops of nasal saline solution in each nostril before bed. You can get this solution at your local pharmacy without a prescription. Some CPAP users prefer taking antihistamines or decongestants for their nasal problems. However, these should only be used for a few days since they can be habit-forming and can make your nasal problems worse when you withdraw. Other prescription medications are available as well, similar to sprays used for nasal allergies. A specially designed humidifier can be a great source of relief for nasal problems. A humidifier can be connected to your CPAP device to add moisture. You can get either cool air humidifiers or warm air humidifiers. If one does not work, try the other. These humidifiers need to be prescribed by a health care professional. One overlooked but very important issue is cleaning your CPAP. To avoid nasal and sinus infections, follow the cleaning and maintenance instructions of your CPAP device very carefully. If you have questions about proper cleaning and maintenance, speak to your CPAP supplier.

Mouth Discomfort:  A dry mouth or pain in the throat can be caused by air blowing through your open mouth. It is important to keep your mouth closed when using CPAP. There are chin straps available for this purpose. One of the best chin straps is the Chin Up Strip. You can find more details about this product by following this link: Chin Up Strips. An alternative to a chin strap, is to get a mask which covers both the nose and the mouth. Humidifiers can also help relieve these symptoms.

Mask Leaks:  Red eyes, return of snoring, return of apnea, or just feeling like the CPAP is no longer working, are all signs that your mask may have an air leak. Air leaks are often due to a poorly fitted mask. Sometimes a different mask or a different size is all that is needed. Remember to always check your mask to make sure it is not worn out or torn. Also consider the use of a chin strap. If this does not help, there are masks which can fit inside your nose, with nasal pillows. Custom masks can also be made if necessary. Contact your CPAP supplier for more information about mask options.

Sore Eyes:  Sore, dry, red eyes are often the result of a mask leak. Try readjusting the headgear. Your CPAP supplier can help determine if you need a new mask.

Noisy Machines:  All CPAP machines make some noise. The newer models are much quieter than the older ones. You may want to try placing your machine under the bed or on the floor to help eliminate some of the sound. You could also buy a white noise machine to mask the CPAP and lull you off to sleep.

Red Face:  Your mask may be pressed too tightly to your face if you have red areas or sores on or above the bridge of your nose or on your forehead. If you need to loosen the mask so much that leaks develop, ask your CPAP supplier to check if your mask is the right type and size and is properly fitted. There are spacers and air cushions which can help ease pressure against the skin. Ask your CPAP supplier for spacer and air cushion info. If you think you may be allergic to the mask, do a simple test: Place some paper surgical/medical tape over the areas where the mask touches your skin. If the problem is eliminated, you may be allergic. See your CPAP provider to find a new mask. Most CPAP masks are now made of hypoallergenic materials.

Too Much Air:  It is difficult sometimes to adjust to the air pressure at first. However, if you find that the pressure is too great for you to fall asleep, inquire about a pressure ramp. Most CPAP machines have ramp capability. With a ramp, your CPAP will begin delivering air at a very low pressure when you go to bed and will gradually increase the pressure to the required amount over a period of time. This may help you fall asleep more easily.

Difficulty Exhaling:  If you have difficulty breathing out when using your machine, you may need to switch to a machine called BiPAP. This machine delivers the air at a lower pressure when you exhale so that breathing out is easier. BiPAP machines are often larger and heavier than CPAP machines and retesting in a sleep lab is normally required in order to obtain the correct pressure settings.

Cold Nose:  Air cools as it moves through the hose tubing. To reduce heat loss, try putting your hose under your bed covers.

Dentures:  Some people find that the mask fits better if they sleep with their dentures in.

Claustrophobia:  To combat feelings of claustrophobia or difficulty breathing, spend some time practicing with your CPAP machine. Try using it while awake during the day, when you are watching television or reading. Try wearing the CPAP device for only a few minutes and gradually increase the time you spend breathing with it. If this tip does not help, try relaxation exercises either through a self-help book or CD or from a trained professional while you are wearing CPAP. Remember to be patient. CPAP can work wonders!

Thanks to L. Orr, BA, RPSGT for her help with this list.

Here’s another set of great tips a wonderful client shared with me some time ago:

  1. Always keep a packing list in your CPAP bag. The list should include all the accessories that you’ll need to use your CPAP away from home. This is for travel and hospitalization, both planned and unplanned. You can use the list to verify that you’ve packed all the attachments and accessories that you will need. If somebody else has to bring your CPAP to the hospital, (s)he will need the list to be sure everything was packed.
  2. Always keep a spare mask on hand. If your finances are such that you can’t afford an extra mask, keep your old one. An old mask, even if broken, can be a good source of emergency parts. If possible, keep a spare mask in working order.
  3. Keep duct tape on hand. If the hose starts to leak, you can make an emergency repair with this tape.
  4. If you’re using a humidifier, keep a spare reservoir on hand. This may not be feasible for travel, but keep one at home.
  5. Keep a spare hose on hand. Again, this may not be feasible for travel, but keep one at home.
  6. Every morning, wash the mask as well as the tubing. Dry the mask, tubing, and machine, by running the unit for 20 minutes. This may not be possible with some of the fancier machines, but most CPAP’s will allow it. This is especially true during travel. Don’t put anything wet in the bag.
  7. Clean the tubes and mask with a 25% vinegar solution from time to time. Rinse thoroughly and dry, and you will not notice any vinegar odour.
  8. Wash your headgear (strap) with Woolite periodically. Hang it up to dry. It should dry within ten hours. Avoid the washing machine and dryer.
  9. Inspect for leaks frequently. There should be no air escaping, except through the exhaust ports.

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