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When I'm speaking with new CPAP patients, mask choice is consistently the toughest point of discussion.
There are 2 main categories of CPAP mask available today: nasal masks & full face masks. As a rule of thumb, most patients will want to start with the least medical looking solution possible.
Nasal masks are considerably smaller and less imposing than their full-face counterparts, and can be a great option for those who breathe through their noses while they sleep. However, if you mainly breathe through your mouth while sleeping, that cute little nasal mask will lead to a lot of issues.
If you're a nighttime mouth-breather and you start with a nasal mask, you are likely to:
- Wake up more often during the night
- Lose hours of sleep
- Feel like you are choking
- Get frustrated
- Get worse results from your CPAP therapy, due to an inability to adequately make adjustments to your therapy
To make sure you start your sleep therapy journey on the right foot, ask yourself the following questions:
“Do I breathe out of my mouth when I sleep?”
“Do I often wake up in the morning with a dry mouth?”
“Do I sleep with water next to my bed?”
“Do I have allergies?”
“Have I recently undergone surgery to correct a deviated septum or other nasal disorder?"
If the answer to any of these is yes, I would suggest choosing a full face mask for your sleep therapy. In the end you will save yourself a lot of time and irritation.
It may seem overwhelming to use a full face mask over something less intrusive like a nasal mask, but in order for a mask to work, the CPAP machine needs an airtight seal to make an “air splint” in your upper airway. If you wear a nasal mask and breathe through your mouth, that airtight seal is not present, so no air splint can be created. This means that the machine will not be able to work to its full capacity to treat all of your apneas.
I have personally seen many mouth breathers find relief with a full face mask after struggling for weeks trying to make it work with a nasal mask. If you don’t know whether or not you are a mouth breather, you can ask your bed partner - believe me they know! Be honest with yourself and come to terms with the fact that you can not control what you do when you are sleeping, otherwise you wouldn't have an apnea problem in the first place!
- Leigh Foley, RT
*This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.