CPAP Devices for Sleep Apnea

What is a CPAP device?

One way to treat people who have sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. A CPAP device includes a mask, tubes and a fan. It uses air pressure to push your tongue forward and open your throat. This allows air to pass through your throat. It reduces snoring and prevents apnea disturbances.

You should put your CPAP device on whenever you sleep, even for naps. A CPAP device does not cure sleep apnea. But, when you use the device correctly, your sleep problems should get much better.

Do I need a CPAP device?

Talk to your doctor if you think you have sleep apnea. Your doctor may ask you to go to a sleep center for a sleep study. During your sleep study, you may try different levels of air pressure with a CPAP device to see which level helps. In general, heavier people and people who have severe apnea need higher air pressures. If you need a CPAP device, your doctor will help you choose one that is right for you.

What if I have problems with my CPAP device?

Many people have problems with their CPAP device, especially at first. It's important to not give up. Often, the problems go away when you get used to wearing the device. It may also be helpful for you to find a support group in your area so that you can talk with other people who have sleep apnea.

The following are some common problems you may have with your CPAP device, and some possible solutions: 

  • The mask feels uncomfortable. Because everyone's face has a different shape, you may need to try different masks to find one that fits you well.
  • Your nose feels dry and stuffy. You can try using a humidifier to moisten the air from the CPAP device.
  • Your nose feels blocked up. Some people who have sleep apnea also have nose problems. Ask your doctor if you have a nose problem that can be treated with a nasal spray. Surgery is sometimes also an option. People who breathe through their mouths don't do as well with CPAP nose masks. In this case, a full-face mask that covers both the nose and the mouth may help (see the picture below).
  • The mask bothers your skin and nose. Because the mask must fit firmly over your nose and cheeks, it may irritate your skin. A different size or kind of mask may help. There are also special skin moisturizers made for CPAP device users. Some petroleum-based products can damage the mask, so ask your doctor for more information. Some people also benefit from using nasal pillows that fit into the nostrils and relieve pressure on the bridge of the nose (see the picture below). Using a regular CPAP mask one night and nasal pillows the next night may help you feel more comfortable.
  • The mask leaks air. Some people can't keep their jaw closed while wearing the mask. A chin strap can help hold up your jaw to keep the air in (see the picture below).
  • You don't like the pressure. You may find that breathing out against the air pressure keeps you from sleeping deeply. Your doctor may ask you to use a bi-level machine that lowers the air pressure when you breathe out. The same mask may be used with CPAP and bi-level machines.
  • You take the mask off during your sleep or don't wear it every night. Most people can't wear the mask all night long, every night, right from the start. Keep trying, even if you can only use the mask for an hour a night at first. Once you solve your comfort problems, you should be able to increase the time you wear the mask.
  • You just can't get used to the mask. Some people find that wearing a dental device that pushes their tongue forward helps. You may want to talk with your doctor about whether throat or jaw surgery could help.