Have you just been diagnosed with sleep apnoea? Are you struggling to get on with your CPAP machine? Don’t worry — you’re not the only one!

Most people who use CPAP find the first few weeks really tough. You may be experiencing problems such as air leaking from the sides of your mask, claustrophobia or dry airways.

There’s a good chance you’ve considered throwing in the towel. But before you give up, it’s important to understand that most problems can be easily solved with some minor adjustments to your therapy.

If you’re new to CPAP read on for my simple solutions to the five most common problems new users encounter.

1. Air leaking from the sides of the mask

Air can leak from the sides of your mask if it does not seal perfectly to your face.

Sometimes this can be easily solved by washing your mask. If there is a build-up of skin oil on the mask it won’t seal, so it’s best to wash it every day.

You should check you have assembled your mask correctly as some masks have small, fiddly pieces that can come undone or be easily damaged. Have a good look at the cushion that contacts your face — you may not have noticed a small break or tear. If you do notice any damage it’s important to get the part replaced immediately.

Try refitting your mask in a mirror so the mask sits in the centre of your face. If it is slightly off centre you can run into leaks. Also make sure you aren’t over tightening the straps and buckling the cushion.

If all of these fixes don’t work, it sounds like you have a mask ill-suited to the shape of your face. It’s best to talk to your sleep specialist about trying a different size or style. It often takes more than one attempt at finding your ideal mask so don’t worry about booking another appointment.

2. Breathing through your mouth

If you are using a mask that sits on your nose and find yourself waking up with a dry mouth, you are probably sleeping with your mouth open. Air may be entering your nose and exiting through your mouth without reaching your airways. This can make CPAP less effective.

You have two options:

  • Ask your sleep specialist if you can try a full face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Then it won’t matter if you open your mouth when you sleep.
  • Use a chin strap. This is an elasticated band that sits underneath your chin and straps with Velcro over your head. It can be used as a training tool to encourage you to close your mouth.

3. Claustrophobia

Many new CPAP users experience claustrophobia. It often settles down on its own as you get used to the feeling of the mask pressed up against your face.

In the meantime use your CPAP machine in the evening when you are comfortable and relaxed. Work up to using your CPAP during sleep. If you have a bad night, take your mask off and then try again a little later.

Remember all masks have exhalation ports so you can’t suffocate while using CPAP.

If the claustrophobia doesn’t pass, you can try nasal pillows. This type of mask is the lightest and least intrusive, with two silicone prongs that sit just inside your nostrils.

4. Dry airways, nasal stuffiness, minor nosebleeds or sinus problems

Your airways can easily dry out with all that extra air flowing through them. Thankfully they will usually adapt after a few weeks of using CPAP.

If you have a congested nose or symptoms of a cold, you can place a drop of Olbas oil on a piece of tissue near the filter at the back of your machine. The aroma will help to clear your nose.

If you are having minor nosebleeds or sinus problems, a heated humidifier can help. This is a water tub that you add to your CPAP machine. The water is gently heated and a small amount of vapour is drawn into your airways to stop them drying out.

5. Pressure sores

If your mask contacts the bridge of your nose, it can chafe against sensitive skin. Ouch!

Your nose is more likely to graze if your mask is sitting directly over the bony bit on the bridge of your nose. Try a larger sized mask cushion.

If your mask is still rubbing, nasal pads can be placed between your nose and mask. These stop friction and protect your nose.

Alternatively, you could try nasal pillows – they are designed to sit just inside your nostrils and do not contact the bridge of your nose, so they cannot rub against the sensitive skin.

Find more essential problem-solving tips

As you can see, most problems you encounter with CPAP can be easily fixed.

For more great problem-solving tips like these check out our new eBook: Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and CPAP – From diagnosis to treatment. We have three whole chapters of Q & A’s dedicated to new users, plus tons of other tips and tricks for getting on with your machine.

Have you been battling a problem with your CPAP machine and found a clever solution? If so we would love to hear it in the comments section below.

One comment

  1. Dan on

    My mask blows air into my wife’s face which really annoys her. She suggested I put a plastic bag over my head but suspect this might be a ploy to get rid of me altogether. Any suggestions?

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