Learning to Live with a CPAP Machine for Sleep Apnea

Early Discomfort and Problems Can Be Solved with Adjustments

Learning to live with CPAP machines for sleep apnea treatment may require adjustments
Learning to live with CPAP machines for sleep apnea treatment may require adjustments. Brandon Peters, M.D.

In most cases, individuals suffering from sleep apnea will be offered continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, as the primary treatment therapy. This works to keep the upper airway open by providing a constant flow of air delivered through a face mask worn while sleeping. It is not always easy learning to live with using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea treatment. Early discomfort and problems can be solved with simple adjustments.

If your doctor recommends CPAP therapy, you might have some of these common questions:

  • What if I have claustrophobia?

Share your concerns. Ask for a mask that you are comfortable using. For example, nasal pillows will not block your eyes. At first, try to practice during the day for a few minutes at a time while doing something relaxing, such as watching television. Gradually increase the time you use it until you are completely comfortable. It may take time to adapt, so don’t give up.

  • What if I can’t breathe with my nose?

It is common to have complaints of nasal dryness, congestion, or even nosebleeds while using CPAP. Try using a heated humidifier and saline spray to moisten your nasal passages. Use a mask that covers both your nose and your mouth to allow yourself the chance to breathe through your mouth. If you have allergies, it will be important to treat them with prescription nasal steroids.

You may even want to try a chinstrap.

  • When should I use CPAP?

Every time you go to sleep, even naps. If you find that you have taken it off during the night, replace it when you awaken. You’ll benefit most by always using it.

  • Can I travel with my machine?

Absolutely. If you carry it on an airplane, you will need to remove it from your luggage for a separate examination to pass through security.

It is even possible to obtain an adapter from your supply company to run the CPAP on a battery while camping.

  • What can I use to clean my equipment?

Dish soap and water is best for cleaning of your equipment. Wash the mask and humidifier daily, and the other equipment (including the hosing and humidifier) weekly. If you have recently been sick, wash out the mask, tubing, and humidifier.

  • What can I put in my humidifier?

Put only distilled water in your humidifier. No perfumes, alcohol, or cleaning fluids should ever be placed in it, as these could damage your lungs.

  • How often can I replace my equipment?

For most insurance, including Medicare, you can replace your mask parts every one to three months, your headgear and chinstrap every six months, and your tubing every three months. This will depend on your coverage and it is best to consult with your medical equipment provider or your physician.

  • What if I have a dry mouth or mouth breathe while using it?

Often, a heated humidifier will help, and a chinstrap or a full face mask might prevent you from mouth breathing.

If you have nasal congestion, work to improve this to reduce mouth breathing.

  • What if I have pressure sores or marks on my face?

Although some small marks are to be expected, this might be a sign of a mask that is not fitting properly and that it may be time to try a new one. It is also useful to alternate nights between different mask styles, so that the pressure points vary. Some individuals find facial creams (like RoEzIt cream) or petroleum jelly helpful in preventing irritation.

  • Why do I feel like I can’t breathe out?

Some users describe a sensation of getting too much air. This is most common when starting use of CPAP, and may go away as you become used to it. If it does not improve, it may be resolved by setting a pressure ramp. This allows a low pressure while you are awake and falling asleep, which gradually increases to the therapeutic pressure needed. This ramp can be reset whenever you awaken with the push of a button. Other exhalation pressure relief options (including bilevel, aflex, or cflex) might be prescribed. This sensation might also be a sign that your pressure is too high and it may be time to get a new titration study to reset it.

  • What if I am not getting enough air, snoring, or have a return of my symptoms?

It may be necessary to bring your equipment in to have it checked. Your physician may decide to increase your pressure or provide you with a chinstrap. In addition, this might be an indication that it is time to get a new titration study to readdress your pressure support needs.

  • How can I stop my mask from filling with water?

Condensation within the mask is a common occurrence if the tubing is not heated. By placing the CPAP machine lower than your head, the condensation will collect in it. It might also help to run your tubing under some blankets. Sometimes it is as simple as turning down your heated humidifier temperature.

  • What if I am swallowing air?

This might cause a feeling of bloating in your stomach called aerophagia. It may be necessary to get a pressure ramp setting, have the pressure decreased, or consider getting a new titration study. If you have symptoms of heartburn, treating these may reduce air swallowing.

  • How can I stop myself from pulling my mask off at night?

It will be important to find a mask that is comfortable and is fitting properly. If you are aware of what causes you to pull it off, such as a leak, this issue should be addressed. In addition, a leak alert can be set to let you know that your mask has come off so you can put it back on. In some cases, a sleeping pill may help.

  • What if I have dry eyes?

Start by tightening your mask a little, as this might represent air leaking onto your face. Take your equipment in to have it checked and find a better-fitting mask if this is found to be the problem.

If you are having problems, visit with your healthcare providers.

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