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Tips for Managing CPAP Discomfort

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 13, 2021

Have you had it with your CPAP device?

CPAP, which stands for “continuous positive airway pressure,” is the most popular treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The machine keeps your airway open while you snooze.

Your CPAP machine may be uncomfortable, awkward, or just annoying. You may notice these types of problems the most when you start on the device.

It might take some getting used to. But with a little effort, you can manage your CPAP discomfort and get a good night’s rest.

Managing Common CPAP Discomforts

Here are some common complaints about CPAP machines and how to deal with them:

Your mask is uncomfortable. A mask that feels bulky or restrictive can interfere with sleep. Ask your doctor to make sure that your mask fits your face the way it should. A variety of masks are available to suit your specific needs. Some cover the entire mouth and nose, while others include nasal pillows that slide under your nose. Most masks come in different shapes and sizes. A CPAP mask shouldn’t hurt.

You can’t fall asleep. It can be hard to get used to a CPAP machine. First, try to wear the device for short periods when you’re awake in the daytime. Then, use your CPAP every time you sleep or nap. If you use it only sometimes, it will take longer to adapt.

Your mask leaks air. If your mask is leaky, you might not get the air pressure you need. The air can also blow into your eyes or irritate your skin. Make sure your mask fits. You may need to adjust the pads and straps or find a different size or style.

Your mouth and throat are dry. A dry mouth or throat is common if you use a CPAP device and sleep with your mouth open. A chin strap can help you keep your mouth closed. Another option is a full-face mask that covers both your mouth and nose.

You have nasal congestion. A stuffy nose, or even nosebleeds, can happen when you use a CPAP. Make sure your mask doesn’t leak air. Some machines include a heated humidifier, which helps with nasal congestion. You can also use a saline spray to ease your symptoms.

You have skin irritation. CPAP masks can sometimes cause skin irritation, such as a rash or pressure sores. A mask that’s too tight, that’s worn out, or that leaks air could be the culprit. You may want to use a mask liner to protect your skin.

Your mask is noisy. Most newer CPAP models are quiet. If yours is keeping you awake, make sure that the air filter is clean and free of blockages, and have your doctor check it out. If your device works fine but is still too loud, you can wear earplugs or put the machine farther away from you.

You swallow too much air. Swallowing air can give you gas or bloating. Most of the time, this happens because the CPAP pressure is too high.

You feel claustrophobic. A snug-fitting CPAP mask can feel restrictive and make some people feel anxious. Avoid a full-face mask if this is an issue for you. Also, relaxation exercises can keep you calm. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away.

You’re concerned about intimacy. You might worry that your CPAP will hurt your sex life. But studies show that using the device might actually improve sex drive and function because you’ll be less sleepy during the day.

Your lungs burn. Some people who use a CPAP complain of a burning feeling in their lungs. This is usually due to dry or cold air. A warm humidifier may help relieve this symptom.

Your mask comes off. You might move a lot during the night or pull off your mask without meaning to. A chin strap can keep it in place. Or you could set a periodic alarm to check that your mask is still on.

You like to sleep on your side or stomach. The CPAP hose can get in the way if you prefer to sleep in positions other than on your back. Side and stomach sleepers may also struggle to keep their masks in place. Special pillows may be able to help.

You’re worried about dental problems in children. Some studies have suggested that CPAP use in kids can lead to facial or dental changes. If you’re worried about your child, talk with your doctor.

You still snore. If you use a CPAP and snore, gasp, or choke during your sleep, let your doctor know. Your machine’s pressure may be too low.

You get dizzy. Dizziness after CPAP use could be caused by pressure changes in your middle ear. Talk to your doctor if you notice this problem.

The machine gives you a headache. Although headaches aren’t a common complaint, some people still get them. The pain may happen if the device’s pressure setting is too high or if you have a sinus blockage.

The Bottom Line: It Takes Time

Though a CPAP machine can help you get a restful night’s sleep, studies suggest that many people don’t stick with them. About half of people don’t use the device well enough to get the benefits or stop using it altogether.

A CPAP device can be frustrating, especially at first, but don’t give up. The treatment helps lower your risk of sleep apnea complications, such as heart problems or daytime sleepiness. It can also boost your overall quality of life.

Your doctor can help you manage any problems you run into.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “CPAP machines: Tips for avoiding 10 common problems.”

American Sleep Association: “CPAP and BiPAP: Which One is Best For You?” “CPAP Side Effects.”

American Sleep Apnea Association: “Troubleshooting Guide for CPAP Problems.”

Sleep Foundation: “Best Travel CPAP Machines.”

Rhinology: “Effects of nasal continuous positive airway pressure therapy on partners’ sexual lives.”

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: “Midfacial and Dental Changes Associated with Nasal Positive Airway Pressure in Children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Craniofacial Conditions,” “Outcome of CPAP Treatment on Intimate and Sexual Relationships in Men with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”

Harvard Health Blog: “I can’t tolerate CPAP, what can I do?”

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