If you have a sleep apnea condition, then your physician may suggest a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The machine works by increasing throat pressure so the throat cannot collapse onto itself. This means that your airway can remain open and you can breathe much more easily at night. While the machines can help you get a good night's sleep, some people find the attached masks somewhat uncomfortable. If you want to make sure you are as comfortable as possible so you can get the sleep you need, then keep reading to learn about possible mask options and their specific pros and cons.
Full Face Masks
Full face CPAP masks are the traditional types of masks that fit over the nose and mouth. They cover the majority of the face, sit low on the chin, and expand to over the nose. The masks stay in place and connect with elastic straps around the forehead and the chin.
While the masks seem highly uncomfortable based on their appearance, the placement of the straps is often comfortable for wearers since they do not directly sit on the face. The masks are a good choice if you sleep on your back and are a mouth breather. Even if you do not, the masks are ideal if you have a serious sleep apnea condition because they create more positive pressure. This means they are more effective in keeping your throat and the tissues in the back of your mouth from obstructing your airflow. Also, since the surface area of the mask itself is larger, increased pressure does not cause discomfort issues or make you feel like you may be suffocating.
While full masks do have many positives, they also have some drawbacks. For example, the masks are bigger and bulkier and this can create some difficulties if you like to read at night or fall asleep while watching television. Also, the placement of the mask and the wide bridge around the nose makes it almost impossible to wear glasses at the same time you have your mask on. Side sleeping may be difficult too, and stomach sleeping may be impossible with the mask on.
Nasal masks, like their name suggests, fit over the nose and force positive pressure air up through the nasal cavities to keep the airway open. The masks have similar elastic straps as the full face masks, but the lower strap sits partially over the face when the mask is secured properly. This may be uncomfortable for some people, especially since the straps often need to be tight to keep the mask in place. However, the smaller profile of the mask itself may aid in comfort and so can forehead supports that typically come with small cushions.
Unlike full face masks, the nasal ones are meant to be used for people who breathe through their noses at night. The masks typically create a fairly tight seal and cut down on possible air leaking issues. This is sometimes a problem that may develop with the larger masks. You can also sleep more comfortably on your side when using them.
If you have frequent sinus or allergy problems, then the masks may not be right for you. These things can lead to a reduction in the pressure offered by the CPAP mask and can lead to an ineffective device. The masks may also leave some marks on the face since a tight seal needs to be created. You also may not have the option of using the masks if you have a severe sleep apnea condition.
Some of the drawbacks of the nasal masks can be reduced if you choose a nasal pillow device instead. Nasal pillows sit around the very bottom of the nose, but air leakage may be a bigger issue with these devices.
If you are undecided about the best CPAP device for your needs, then speak with your physician and also with a medical equipment supplier. Medical equipment suppliers will often allow you to try masks for a period of time to see which is best for your needs.