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7 Most Common CPAP Machine Side Effects (and Ways to Avoid Them)

CPAP therapy is considered the gold-standard in treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), because it’s safe, non-invasive, and– most importantly– effective. But as with any treatment options, it does come with the risks of side effects

The side effects of CPAP use are generally mild, but they can be annoying enough to make some people give up on their sleep apnea treatment. Thankfully, these symptoms are also easy to treat, so before you give up on CPAP try out the solutions below.

We’ve compiled the most common problems associated with CPAP use, and the ways to fix or avoid them!

CPAP Side Effects and Solutions

1. Nasal Congestion

One of the most common side effects associated with CPAP therapy is congestion or irritation of the nasal passages. This can include the feelings of stuffy nose, runny nose, a burning sensation, or nosebleeds

Nasal congestion is caused by the flow of dry, pressurized air through the sinuses, and can be particularly common for those with frequent sinus infections

How to Avoid It

  • For short term relief, try a nasal saline spray to moisturize your nasal passages.
  • For long term care you should consider using a CPAP humidifier. Humidification adds moisture to your airflow to relieve dryness and soothe irritation. For added relief, a heated humidifier gently warms the air as it moisturizes, for a more natural feel.

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2. Dry Mouth

Waking up with dry mouth or a dry throat typically happens to mouth breathers and, like nasal congestion, it’s caused by breathing dry, pressurized air. 

Though it’s more common in those who use a full face mask, it can also happen to people who use a nasal pillow mask or nasal mask, due to “mouth leak.” Mouth leak occurs when you sleep with your mouth open and your air pressure escapes out of your open mouth while exhaling

How to Avoid It

  • No matter what type of mask you prefer, a CPAP humidifier will add moisture to soften your airflow.
  • If you use a nasal pillow mask or nasal mask, consider also using a chinstrap. CPAP chinstraps gently keep your mouth closed while sleeping, and are designed to be used along with your CPAP device.

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3. Dry Eyes

If you wake up to dry eyes it’s a sure sign of a mask leak. The escaping air blows across your face, drying your eyes while you sleep. You may not even notice, as the amount of leakage can change with your sleeping position throughout the night. 

How to Avoid It

  • Before anything else, make sure your mask fits properly. Readjust the fit while lying in your preferred sleeping position, since your face shape changes when you lay down. 
  • Make sure your headgear isn’t too loose or too tight. It’s obvious how loose straps can allow air to escape, but an overly tight fit can also cause leaks by preventing your cushion from sealing properly.
  • If your type of mask requires your cushion to inflate, hold it slightly above your face to give it time to build up CPAP pressure.
  • If your mask still leaks after refitting, it may be time to replace it. To keep your sleep therapy effective you should replace your cushions every 2-4 weeks, your mask frame every 3 months, and your headgear every 6 months.

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4. Bloating, Burping, and Gas

With higher pressure settings comes the chance of swallowing air– a condition referred to as ‘aerophagia’. When the flow of continuous positive airway pressure becomes difficult to breathe against, it can end up redirecting into your esophagus. Symptoms of aerophagia are bloating, burping, stomach pain, and passing gas. 

How to Avoid It

  • Talk to your doctor or sleep specialist about adjusting your pressure settings. You should never attempt to adjust your pressure settings without the supervision of a doctor or sleep specialist.

5. Difficulty Exhaling

While most CPAP users adjust well to their therapy, some people may find it difficult to exhale against the continuous flow of air. This can lead to the sensation of shortness of breath even though enough air is allowed.

How to Avoid It

  • First, try your CPAP machine’s exhalation relief settings. This is usually called EPR, A-Flex, C-Flex, or SmartFlex. No matter what it’s called, it reduces the pressure of your airflow during exhalation
  • Talk to your doctor or sleep specialist about adjusting your pressure settings. You should never attempt to adjust your pressure settings without the supervision of a doctor or sleep specialist.
  • Ask your doctor about switching to an APAP machine. APAPs, or AutoCPAP machines, use advanced algorithms to monitor your breathing pattern and adjust your pressure according to your needs.
  • In some cases, your doctor may recommend using a BiPAP machine. BiPAPs, or Bi-Level CPAPs, provide two different pressure settings. A higher pressure during inhalation gives you the support you need to prevent apnea, while a lower pressure during exhalation allows a more natural breathing pattern.

6. Skin Irritation and Acne

Your CPAP mask can collect skin oils, dead skin cells, and sweat while you sleep, which can lead to the build up of germs and bacteria. This build up can cause skin irritation, rash, acne, and sores. 

How to Avoid It

  • It’s important to regularly wash your CPAP mask with soap and water, and replace your cushions every 2-4 weeks. Even with regular cleaning, micro-tears in the silicone or foam can collect germs over time.
  • Mask liners and mask gel can help prevent the build up of sweat and skin oil, while also helping to promote a proper mask seal.

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7. Claustrophobia

New CPAP users may find it difficult to adjust to the feeling of wearing a CPAP mask and tubing. This is especially true for those who require a full face mask. While the feeling usually goes away with time and practice, it can make it difficult to get into the habit of regularly using your CPAP machine

How to Avoid It

  • Introduce yourself to CPAP therapy gradually by using it while awake for short periods of time. Then try putting your CPAP mask on (with your CPAP device turned on) when reading or watching TV in bed. 
  • Consider switching to a nasal pillow mask or nasal mask, which have a smaller profile and a wider field of vision.
  • If you require a full face mask consider a minimal-contact design, like the ResMed AirFit F30 or the DreamWear Full Face mask.

Find the CPAP Supplies that Fit You

While the possible side effects of CPAP use aren’t usually dangerous, they can be the reason why some people give up on their sleep therapy altogether. That’s why comfort features and CPAP accessories are more than just luxury items– they can mean the difference between giving up and getting a good night’s sleep. 

Your personal Sleep Specialist from CPAPSupplies.com can help you choose a mask that fits, find a machine that has the features you need, and troubleshoot problems when they arise. If you’re having difficulty with these side effects, reach out at info@cpapsupplies.com or call your specialist at 1-866-298-6482 so we can help you get the good sleep you deserve.