Common CPAP Problems and Solutions

by john

While a continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) machine is the overwhelmingly popular choice for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea it is not without it’s problems.  In this article we outline some of the common problems users of CPAP machines report and what you can do about them.

Problem #1 – Embarrassment

Your CPAP machine is only useful if it is used!  Unfortunately some people really struggle with the nightly routine of donning the mask, particularly when they have a loved one who shares their bed.  Like most issues the solution is communication.  Be open with your partner about your feelings and ensure they know the importance of your treatment.  They need to understand that the CPAP machine is literally extending your life.  The more you talk about the machine and acknowledge its existence the faster you will get over your embarrassment over using it.

Problem #2 – Redness or Sore Spots on Face After Use

This is a common problem because the sleep apnea sufferer is wearing a mask tight to their face all night long.  This can causes indentations in the skin around where the mask is pressing against your face and it may cause red sore spots where those pressure points exist.  While most modern masks handle this pretty well there are a few things you can do:

  • Loosen your straps slightly so that they are not too tight. Make sure that your mask is still snug enough to prevent air leaks, but not so tight that it hurts your skin.
  • Consider buying pads that slip over your straps. Made of fleece or other soft material, they keep the straps from rubbing against your skin.
  • Talk to your CPAP supplier about trying a mask that will mold to the shape of your face.

Problem #3 – Acne

In addition to the sore spots where the mask presses against your face you may also find that you develop acne at the same spots.  In addition to following the tips in problem #2 you can help eliminate this problem by making sure your mask is clean.  I suggest washing it with Dreft every week and every night before you put your mask on wipe your face and the mask with a no-odor baby wipe.  This will help prevent acne from appearing.

Problem #4: – Red eyes, continue snoring or stop breathing during sleep

If your partner reports that you are still snoring or stopping to breathe while sleeping or if you wake up with red eyes these are signs that your mask is not fitted properly and that air is leaking out.  Here are some tips to address this problem:

  • Adjust the straps and headgear on your mask to obtain a better fit.
  • If you have had your mask for a while, check to make sure that it is not worn or torn.
  • You may need to try a different size mask.
  • A different type of mask may work better for you. Either a full face mask or nasal pillows may eliminate the air leaks.
  • Talk to your doctor or CPAP supplier about trying a mask that will mold to the shape of your face.

Problem #5 –  You wake with a dry throat or mouth.

Waking up with a dry throat or mouth while using a CPAP machine is a classic sign of a mouth breather.  You really only have two choices.  Use a chin strap or get a full-face CPAP mask.  I use a chin strap myself and it seems to work pretty well as I no longer wake up with a dry mouth.

Problem #6 – You seem to have more nasal congestion from using CPAP.

Nasal stuffiness is the most common side effect of CPAP therapy. You may also have a runny, itchy or dry nose, or nosebleeds. Nasal congestion often goes away after your first month of use. Keep in mind that many people with OSA naturally have an increased level of nasal congestion. This congestion is more common in the winter and during allergy season. It is not always a result of CPAP. Talk to your doctor if your congestion is severe, or if you have nasal, sinus or ear pain.  The best solution is to invest in a CPAP humidifier.  Top-end CPAP machines usually come equiped with them already so if your are not using yours be sure to do so.

Problem #7 – Trouble breathing against the pressure.

The whole point of a CPAP machine is to apply a continuous flow of positive airflow that you breath against, both on inhale and on exhale.  For some this can be a difficult adjustment even though it is the basis for the treatment.  This really is just a matter of adjustment, getting used to the machine.  One way to solve this problem is to use the CPAP machine at various times throughout the day, even when awake like while watching television.  Another way to solve this problem is to utilize the ramp feature of your CPAP machine which starts the pressure low and then gradually increases it.  I have my ramp time set for 20 minutes and it works great – I’m asleep by the time the maximum pressure hits.

I hope these common CPAP problems and solutions were helpful to you.  Once diagnosed with sleep apnea it is very important to continue to use your CPAP machine and getting over these problems is an important step in ensuring use.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

steve jasa June 15, 2010 at 8:57 am

I’m having a problem getting air from my cpap down my esophigus into my stomach. Can you offer any suggestions? I’ve consulted with my respireatory therepist, and he suggested switching from a nasal mask to a full face mask, which I did, but I still get large amounts of air into my stomach. I wake up with extreme bloating, and stomach distension.

Matthew July 7, 2012 at 10:12 am

Thanks for the helpful information. I am a new CPAP user and the sore spots and acne are definitely a deterent to continued use. I will follow your hints and see what happens.

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