Common CPAP Machine Problems And Side Effects

Oct 28, 2019
Common CPAP Machine Problems And Side Effects
If you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your sleep specialist has likely advised that you begin continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy—the most common form of treatment for OSA and snoring.

If you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your sleep specialist has likely advised that you begin continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy—the most common form of treatment for OSA and snoring.

What is CPAP therapy? It entails wearing a mask over your nose and mouth every night when you sleep. A motorized machine on your bedside table sends a steady flow of pressurized air through tubes that attach to this mask. This flow of forced air—the continuous positive airway pressure—enters your nose and throat and keeps your airway open, preventing airway collapse and apneas (the pauses in breathing that fragment your sleep and contribute to all kinds of long-term health problems.)

When used correctly and regularly, CPAP therapy can bring about desirable results almost instantly: no more snoring and no more fragmented sleep. You’ll be healthier and better rested, with a lower risk of stroke, heart disease, and cognitive problems. Your headaches and sore throats may go away, and you’ll be more alert, with no more daytime drowsiness (especially behind the wheel of a car). The upside is massive.

CPAP therapy works. It’s a very effective solution to a problem that affects about 22 million Americans, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

The problem is, not everyone can tolerate this form of therapy. For many people, wearing the sleep apnea mask night after night is uncomfortable. For others, the machine is noisy and distracting. People who’ve rejected CPAP have reported all kinds of reasons for not complying with their therapy. And as with any form of medical help, if you don’t use the therapy every day—or at all—you won’t get the health benefit it offers.

Here at Premier Sleep Associates, our goal is to help you breathe better and sleep better. We believe that apnea sufferers benefit from having as many paths to this result as possible. To better understand your options, you should be fully aware of the pros and cons of each type of OSA therapy available, so you can make an informed choice about the apnea regimen that’s best for you.

CPAP Machine Problems and Objections to Wearing CPAP

CPAP therapy doesn’t feel natural to anyone at the beginning. Almost every apnea patient requires an adjustment period to get used to the feel of wearing a mask to bed. Often, this takes several weeks and possibly some mechanical adjustments at the sleep center. However, a certain subset of users never get used to the gear or the air flow: either the feel, the look, or the stigma of needing medical equipment in the bedroom.

The reasons for CPAP therapy rejection vary. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some common objections we’ve heard from apnea patients who come to us in search of alternatives for treating their OSA:

  • “My CPAP mask causes claustrophobia.” Some apnea patients simply cannot get used to the feel of a foreign body in their nostrils or a mask covering their nose and mouth. Ironically, the mask designed to help them breathe does the opposite, causing panic and shortness of breath. Adjusting for size and fit may not make a difference.
  • “CPAP gives me nasal congestion and dry mouth.” Upper respiratory side effects from the forced air occasionally bother CPAP users. Some people don’t like to use the humidifiers that come with their machines; but without adding water to the air circulating through the nose and upper airway, the mouth and nasal passages can dry out, leading to side effects like dry mouth, a tickling cough, rhinitis, a runny or stuffed-up nose, and other symptoms. A minority of users may also have an allergic response to the materials of the CPAP mask itself.
  • “I hate the airflow of a CPAP.” Some apnea patients try every trick and adjustment and still never get accustomed to the feel of pressurized air circulating through their nose and mouth.
  • “My apnea mask doesn’t fit right.” CPAP masks that go over the mouth and nose may be too tight or too big. Though size and fit can be adjusted by a sleep physician or sleep tech, some people never get used to the feel of the forehead and cheek straps that secure their masks to their heads. You may wake up with indentations on your skin. Some patients feel like this style of apnea mask applies too much pressure to the nose or cheeks. The nasal pillow style of mask is less obtrusive, but if you’re a restless sleeper who moves around a lot, the mask may come unattached, causing you to lose the benefit.
  • “I’m a stomach or side sleeper. The sleep apnea mask gets in my way.” For those who can’t sleep flat on their backs, or who move around a lot in their sleep, CPAP therapy can be cumbersome. The tubing attached to the mask may pull or get tangled when you flip about or toss and turn. If you prefer to sleep on your side, the mask and connected tubing may press into your face in ways that feel uncomfortable.
  • “My CPAP mask makes my skin break out.” Patients with sensitive skin sometimes complain of acne breakouts or skin sores where the mask makes contact with the face. Patients with facial hair like mustaches and beards may experience additional irritation from ingrown hairs.
  • “The airway noise keeps me awake.” If you’re a light sleeper or have insomnia in addition to apnea, the steady humming sound of the motor and the hissing of the air flow may be distracting. Some bed partners also dislike the sound of the air and motor. Though they probably prefer the CPAP noise over snoring, ideally, they’d like no sound at all.
  • “I keep removing my mask in my sleep.” This side effect is particularly tough to prevent. The only solution to unconsciously removing your mask in your sleep is to add additional straps to secure it more tightly. For some people, this method works. For others, securing the mask better has no effect; they remove it anyway, or find the added straps annoying and uncomfortable.
  • “I’m embarrassed by how my CPAP looks.” One of the biggest reasons people refuse to use CPAP has nothing to do with how it feels. Many patients simply don’t want to accept that they need such an unattractive piece of medical equipment. Many patients think of it as a “Darth Vader mask.” They feel a stigma comes with needing CPAP therapy—that snoring and having obstructive sleep apnea are synonymous with being middle-aged, overweight, and unhealthy. They worry that keeping the equipment in the bedroom is unsexy and that wearing it may have a negative effect on their sex lives. Though these fears are often unfounded, the reality is, many people who would benefit from OSA therapy opt out completely because they reject the equipment.

Are There Any Alternatives to CPAP?

If you are a CPAP user who is having trouble wearing a mask or otherwise complying with your therapy, you do have alternatives—namely, dental oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea (aka Sleep Apnea Mouthpiece).

Dental oral appliances are custom-fitted mouth pieces much like sports mouth guards. They pull the lower jaw forward, holding the soft tissues off the back of the throat. This keeps the airway open, eliminating snoring and airway obstructions.

Many patients who’ve been unsuccessful with CPAP therapy find a dental oral appliance for apnea to be a more agreeable solution. Sleep Apnea mouth pieces tend to have a high rate of compliance, they’re FDA-approved, and a growing number of sleep experts now refer them to patients as a first-line treatment for OSA. The advantages of an oral device are numerous: no noise, no pressurized air, no mask to wear, and oral appliances are small and decidedly “lo-fi,” making them ideal for travel.

Contact Premier Sleep Associates If you or a loved one has been previously diagnosed with sleep apnea, has been prescribed CPAP, and you are looking for an alternative to CPAP.

Our staff will be happy to get you scheduled with one of our dental sleep medicine experts today. Call us at (425) 698-1732 today or click the button below to request a call back!