A CPAP mask on a grey background.

CPAP Masks – Top 5 Most Common Problems and How I Solved Them

As someone who suffers from sleep apnea and has struggled to adjust to using a CPAP machine, I know firsthand how frustrating CPAP mask problems can be.

After being diagnosed with severe sleep apnea a decade ago, my doctor prescribed me a CPAP machine to help me breathe better at night. What they don’t tell you though is that it can be very difficult to get used to wearing a CPAP mask to bed and even harder to try and fall asleep naturally.

In the beginning, I had all kinds of issues with mask discomfort, mask rashes, air leaks, and taking the mask off at night without realizing it. I was lucky in that I took to it fairly easily and was willing to put the work in to resolve the problems, but for some people these issues become serious impediments to finding some resolution to their sleep apnea nightmare.

Don’t Give Up on CPAP Therapy

At this point, it’s really important not to give up on CPAP therapy.

CPAP mask issues can be solved with a little trial and error.

Over time, doing research and working with my CPAP therapy specialist, we were able to find a mask model that fit me comfortably and adjusted the settings so that my pressure and leaks were minimized.

I admit that I was pretty lucky in that I didn’t really struggle to adopt CPAP and haven’t had that many problems, but it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. However, whenever I’ve run across a problem sticking with it has really helped reduce my excessive daytime sleepiness and improved my health overall.

To help you out, I want to share the most common CPAP mask problems I’ve encountered as a CPAP user, particularly in the beginning, along with the solutions that helped me work through them.

My goal is to pay forward the advice that helped me stick with CPAP so that other sleep apnea sufferers starting this process can benefit too.

CPAP Mask Rash as an Allergic Reaction

A man's face wearing a nasopharyngeal mask to solve common problems associated with CPAP masks.
My CPAP Mask rash and the Simplex Full Face Mask I wore

When I first got my CPAP mask, I was hopeful that it would help alleviate my symptoms and give me a better night’s sleep. But what I didn’t expect was for the CPAP mask itself to cause problems!

Shortly after I began treatment, I noticed my skin becoming irritated, red, and itchy where the mask met my face. I wrote a blog post about my CPAP mask experience at the time.

Was Shaving Causing My CPAP Mask Rash?

I had shaved before bed to get a better seal with my CPAP mask and save time in the morning. However, I used a new aftershave gel that irritated my skin overnight. I had woken up in the morning with a red rash around my mouth that looked silly but wasn’t painful. I had some work calls to get through without being embarrassed. The lesson I learned that day was not to use skin care products before wearing my mask.

Other CPAP Mask Rash and Red Mark Issues

It’s not just using some skin care products that can cause a rash or red marks, other causes can be bacteria, silicone allergy, and a poor-fitting mask.

  • Bacteria: Bacteria in the CPAP mask cushion can cause red marks, which can be minimized through daily mask cleaning and using CPAP mask wipes.
  • Silicone allergy: An allergy to silicon can cause red marks, but fabric CPAP masks or using mask liners can provide a barrier between the skin and silicone. Talk to your CPAP Mask provider about looking at other options.
  • Ill-Fitting CPAP mask: This is one of the leading issues for new sleep apnea sufferers and anyone who has changed to a new CPAP mask. Ill-fitting masks can lead to red marks and skin breakage, but adjusting the fit, trying different mask shapes, and using CPAP humidifiers can help alleviate the issue. To ensure a comfortable fit, consult with your doctor and CPAP provider to select a mask that meets your needs and is correctly fitted. Ask your sleep technologist or supplier to demonstrate how to adjust your mask for the optimal fit. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the different types of CPAP masks available, considering their benefits and drawbacks, to find the one that suits you best.

Adjusting to the Pressurized Air – No More CPAP Mask Leaks

Every now and then, I have issues with my mask leaking air.

It’s always incredibly disruptive and annoying.

The first time I struggled with it, I became really frustrated and ended up contacting my CPAP technician for some advice. Working through the problem, he decided that my air pressure settings were far too high.

  • The average CPAP machine offers a pressure range of 4 to 20 cmH2O
  • My pressure was set at 15 cmH2O
  • My technician suggested lowering it to 11 cmH2O over several days

With the lower pressure of 11 cmH2O, my mask stopped leaking entirely. I started sleeping through the night peacefully without air blasting in my eyes.

I learned that over time, CPAP pressure needs may change.

Factors like weight changes or aging can impact the setting you need. Pay attention to leaks, discomfort, and sleep quality. Getting the pressure adjusted could make a world of difference. Don’t just tolerate mask leaks and exhaustion.

Battling Nasal Congestion with My CPAP

A cpap machine with hoses and a cpap mask attached to it.
CPAP Mask nasal congestion

Since starting CPAP therapy for my sleep apnea, I’ve struggled with nasal congestion, stuffiness and irritation periodically. The constant airflow was drying out my nasal passages and sinuses which caused congestion when I’d wake up in the morning.

The culprit was the dry, pressurized air blasting through my nose and mouth all night.

On my CPAP technician’s advice, I tried saline nasal sprays. While these provided some short-term moisturizing relief, they weren’t fixing the root cause – the dry CPAP air.

I eventually found decided to start using the heated humidifier with my CPAP machine. Adding moisture back into the airflow soothed my nasal passages immensely. The humid, warmed air restored comfort and eased my congestion.

Originally, I’d opted against using the humidifier because I found it made the air warm and in some of our Australian summers, that was a bit uncomfortable… but not as uncomfortable as waking up and suffering from a nose bleed, so I relented.

Having said that, in the summer, I’ll often just fill my CPAP’s water well with cold water before bed, turn off the heating function, and let the air move across the cool water. It is obviously picking up some vapour and helps out a bit without making me too hot on those warm summer nights.

Overcoming Claustrophobia with CPAP Mask

Feeling claustrophobic is a fairly common problem for many CPAP users from what I’ve been told, and although I haven’t experienced it personally, I imagine that waking up in a panic with something on your face forcing air into you could be quite horrifying for new CPAP users.

From what I’ve been told, the best way to alleviate this is to just take it slow. CPAP is a long term therapy and so it’s more important to get comfortable with the mask and the pressure than rushing in from day one and getting a full 8 hours sleep with your mask.

Just put the mask on for a little while before bed and get used to it on your face. Maybe just watch a bit of TV or read a book with it on before trying to fall to sleep. If you wake up and you’re a bit freaked out in the middle of the night, take it off, have a drink of water to calm down, and then go through your “sleep ritual” from the top to build good habits.

Exploring various mask styles can also make a big difference. Some people have told me that they found relief by switching to different types of masks, like nasal pillows or full-face options, depending on what feels more comfortable and less intrusive.

For most people, these feelings of panic and claustrophobia typically diminish over time as you become more accustomed to CPAP therapy. It’s a matter of patience and finding what works best for you. If you’re struggling with these feelings, just remember that you’re not the only one, and keep at it because it does get easier with time.

Dry Mouth with CPAP Mask

A man laying in bed with a glass of water.
CPAP Mask Dry Mouth

Before I go to sleep I tend to drink water, and I always have a bottle next to my bed for when I wake up in the middle of the night. So when I started waking up in the morning with a dry mouth and throat I was confused. No matter how much water I drank, my mouth felt parched and uncomfortable all night long.

This CPAP side effect was severely disrupting my sleep. I’d wake up repeatedly to guzzle water, yet still felt dehydrated. The dry air from my CPAP was the clear culprit. This constant airflow was drying out my mouth, decreasing saliva production. It’s a common issue with CPAP machines.

On top of the CPAP airflow itself, my ill-fitting mask was causing more dryness. Air leaks meant even more moisture got sucked out. After dealing with this for weeks, I finally took action.

As I mentioned before, using the heated humidifier with my CPAP machine helped a bit with overall dryness. I still wake up for a drink occasionally because I’m more of a mouth breather when I sleep, but it’s much better now than when I started.

Persevering with CPAP is the Key

I understand how tough it can be to adjust to CPAP therapy, I went through it too.

The thing that I can share though is that it’s entirely worth it – once the goodness of CPAP starts kicking in, everything starts to get better. Your health improves, you’re less tired, you feel more positive, and even your primary relationships get better.

But perseverance is the key.

While CPAP mask problems like discomfort, rashes, air leaks, and even claustrophobia can be challenging, they often can be resolved with patience and the right strategies. It’s a process that requires some trial and error, but the long-term health benefits are worth it.

Remember that these issues are common and you’re not alone in experiencing them – I went through them and so has almost everyone else who’s done CPAP.

Working closely with your CPAP therapy specialist and trying different solutions like adjusting mask fit, using humidifiers, and finding the right pressure settings can make a significant difference. Over time, as you adapt to the therapy and find what works for you, your sleep apnea symptoms will improve remarkably and you’ll be glad you hung in there.

So, don’t give up. Stick with it, take your time, and keep in mind that every small step forward is a victory in improving your sleep and overall health. The road might seem long, but with determination and support, a better night’s sleep is within reach.

Photo of author
As a long term Sleep Apnea sufferer, Sean has researched the topic extensively and tried several different therapies and lifestyle changes with varying degrees of success. His efforts now are focused on helping people get diagnosed early and begin treating their Sleep Apnea to avoid long-term health impacts.

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