A Guide to Finding The Right CPAP Mask
By Ashley - Certified Polysomnographic Technologist
Finding it hard to find the right CPAP mask?
Whether it is walking into your home care provider store or visiting our website, finding a mask that is right for you can be very overwhelming due to the wide variety.
“Where to start?” or “What will be most comfortable for me?” are some of the questions my patients and customers ask me on a daily basis.
When mask shopping, you want to ensure you are getting the proper style mask that will accommodate your comfort, your style of breathing, and even the position you sleep in.
For example, if you are a stomach sleeper, consider watching this video:
Most importantly, you want to find the best material for your skin type and adjustable head straps so you can tighten or loosen the headgear when needed.
Most newer masks come with magnets for easy fastening and a flexible short tube for a quick release to the restroom or if you need to grab a drink of water. This ensures that you do not remove your mask in a dark room or disturb your sleep trying to fasten your mask back on in the middle of the night.
I am particularly a big fan of the flexible short tube; it ensures that I can come back to bed and continue wearing my CPAP. Most times, if you remove your mask in the middle of the night, you may be too tired to place the mask back on, and this will create poor compliance and therapy.
Most new masks also come with the option of having the hose connector at the top of the head. This can be very handy for those who toss and turn throughout the night or simply want the hose out of their way or out of the way for their bed partner.
The best mask fit is crucial. One with a proper seal which includes no air leaks will determine the amount of airflow (pressure) required from your CPAP machine.
Loss of air will ramp up your auto pressure, causing more air leaks and possibly noise. Loss of pressure on a manual pressure machine can cause untreated sleep apnea.
Now, after several years of being in the sleep medicine industry, I have narrowed it down to some helpful questions I can ask my patients to see which mask might be the right fit for them.
The short video below will introduce you to the several types of CPAP masks and help you navigate your mask selection:
Take a quick CPAP mask quiz
Here are some helpful questions you can ask yourself now:
- Do I wake up with an extremely dry mouth or throat in the morning? (Y/N)
- Do I have a deviated septum or broken nose? (Y/N)
- Do I wake up with a blocked or runny nose? (Y/N)
- Do I remove my dentures when sleeping? (Y/N)
If you have answered Yes to 2 out of 4 of these questions, the best mask for you would be the full-face mask.
Why a full-face mask?
The reason for a full-face mask is due to mouth ventilation (breathing in and out of your mouth) during sleep. For your CPAP to provide optimal therapy, we must ensure you avoid any leaks or air pressure escaping from your mouth.
Your mouth opening comes before your airway, so when the CPAP provides positive airway pressure, we want to ensure the air is traveling directly to your collapsed airway (obstructive sleep apnea) and not out of your mouth.
The pressured air escaping from the mouth will be highly uncomfortable and can cause frequent arousals throughout the night, such as waking up to have a glass of water and in most cases a sore and dry mouth.
The noise coming from an open mouth can also lead to disruption and poor sleep for your bed partner. An open mouth due to air pressure will also lead to your salivary glands not creating enough saliva, which can also cause some of the following health issues:
- Increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease.
- Mouth sores.
- Yeast infection in your mouth (thrush).
- Sores or split skin at the corners of your mouth, or cracked lips.
- Poor nutrition from having problems with chewing and swallowing.
For some suggestions on full face masks check out these: AirFit F20, F30, or the F30i by ResMed, the Amara View by Philips, and the Vitera and Simplus by Fisher and Paykel. These are some examples of our newest full-face mask options in stock.
If you answered No to most questions on the quiz above, then a nasal mask or nasal pillow mask would be a great option for you. Now comes the question, “How do I choose between the two?” This really depends on comfort and what works for you.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when choosing a nasal pillow or nasal style mask:
- Do I sleep on my stomach? (Y/N)
- Do I suffer from feeling claustrophobic easily? (Y/N)
- Do I have a flatter nose bridge or no bridge at all? (Y/N)
If you’ve answered Yes to one of these questions, I would suggest trying a nasal pillow mask.
How about a nasal pillow mask?
The nasal pillow mask mimics a nasal cannula style which is lightweight and the least cumbersome out of the 3 styles. Small and easy to wear, the nasal pillow is the most popular go-to mask.
However, it can take some time getting used to as the air pressure from your CPAP machine is directly administered into your nostrils. A disadvantage of the pillow mask is extra dryness on the inside of the nostrils. So, ensure to increase the humidity and try a heated hose if this occurs.
You may also develop some dry skin or callus under your nostrils or just at the opening of your nostrils. To avoid this, you can try Vaseline or petroleum jelly. Try taking a small amount of Vaseline and rubbing it where the nasal pillows will touch (a small amount goes a long way), and then place the nasal pillow mask on.
You can do this every night for the next two weeks until you have broken into your mask. Stay away from any harsh chemicals or creams which can cause breakouts or clogged pores.
Failed full face mask users can check out a nasal pillow mask with a chin strap. The combination might be more comfortable, and for those with facial hair - you may not have to pull out the buzzer and trim off your hard work.
Nasal CPAP masks
The final style of a mask we can check out is our nasal CPAP masks . Nasal masks, which cover all parts of the nose, are another option for those who are side and back sleepers. For those who do not like the idea of something plugged into their nostrils, the nasal mask is a definite winner.
As the air pressure from the machine circulates all around the nasal cushion, those using a higher pressure (10 cmH20 or higher) may find the nasal style mask quite comfortable and easier to exhale into.
To ensure you are finding the correct size for you, click on any of our masks and check out the size gauge tab. You can print the sizing chart in the comfort of your own home and measure the size you most likely will fit into.
If you are still unsure, check out the masks that have a fit pack suggestion. This means all sizes of the cushions are available in the packaging.
For optimal comfort for those who are side sleepers, I would recommend looking into a CPAP friendly pillow. Depending on the style of the pillow, it can assist with the bulkiness of the mask and how the mask sits against your face while lying down.
At last, if you have tried a full-face mask, and its cumbersomeness deprives you of sleep, check out our CPAP mask chin straps that can be paired with a nasal mask for those occasional mouth breathers.
No matter the mask, prevent leaks
Finally, know that all masks can leak during position changes in our sleep. This is virtually unavoidable and common. Some steps to ensure leak is controlled at home is by changing your mask frequently as indicated on the packaging or as instructed by our medical team.
Most newer machines can advise a leak threshold. So, ensure that your CPAP machine is set to the correct mask type to get the correct reading on any leakage. The optimal reading for leak should be under 24/lpm.
Also note that most masks have an exhalation port, and you should feel some air escaping from these small ports. Some masks do come with a diffuser to cover the exhalation port so your bed partner does not feel the cool breeze, such as the Eson 2 .
However, do not cover the exhalation port if it does not come with a diffuser as this is how your carbon dioxide is released. Ensuring you have proper pillows and mattress for your goodnight sleep can also play a huge factor in a comfortable sleep with your CPAP set up.
Try setting up your new mask 30 minutes prior to bed, grab a good book, and take some slow deep breaths and relax before you embark on a goodnight sleep.