Obstructive Sleep Apnea CPAP get smart fast

Disclaimer: These peer coaching articles describe what some savvy, successful CPAP users have done to make their treatment successful. Not written by healthcare professionals. The information and opinions may not necessarily be correct or helpful for you and your unique needs. Rely on sound, well informed medical advice from your doctors and other healthcare professionals well versed in treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

Location: United States

IF I ONLY KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW! Blog Purpose: To help you with your CPAP therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). For those with OSA, family, friends, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, sleep technicians. Why This Came to Be: I didn’t have the information I needed for successful CPAP treatment when I needed it. A kind sleep lab technician with OSA told me about a web site he had heard about from another patient, www.cpaptalk.com. The rest is history. It took me months of reading hundreds of posts to gather the information I needed while suffering through equipment struggles. Not everyone has that time or wants to struggle needlessly. I wrote up my own experience and advice from the collective wisdom of experienced CPAP users on cpaptalk.com. Thanks to them, my treatment is working. I’m not sure I could have done it without them. The online CPAP equipment store www.cpap.com created cpaptalk.com. I appreciate what they are giving back to the CPAP community through their website forum, as well as their fair prices. NOBODY IS AS SMART AS EVERYBODY! To email me, send a private message to Mile High Sleeper at www.cpaptalk.com.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Soving CPAP Mask Problems

For people with sleep apnea and for their healthcare professionals, peer coaching article #15, updated 1 December 2011

One man’s meat is another man’s poison, especially when it comes to masks.

Mask comfort
As Good As It Gets

Use a CPAP heated humidifier to make the air more comfortable and keep air passages moisturized and healthier. Get an integrated (built-in) or stand-alone CPAP humidifier. Experiment with settings from low to high humidity. Dry nasal passages can become irritated, crusty, and bleed. Use an additional nasal moisturizer or spray if you experience dryness.

A mask needs to fit the way you breathe – nose breathing or mouth breathing. If you breathe through your nose, use a nasal mask or nasal pillows. If you breathe through your mouth, or go from a clear to clogged nose during the night, use a full face mask.

Often, adjusting the headgear and mask too tight will make leaks worse. If a mask leaves marks on your face in the morning that don’t go away for a long time, it’s too tight. A mask and headgear that are too tight may cause puffy, baggy eyes, misaligned teeth, dental pain, headaches, neck aches, and pressure sores on the bridge of the nose or other parts of the face.
To make a mask more comfortable, consider Pad-A-Cheek strap covers http://www.padacheek.com/ , a mask-compatible pillow such as PAPillow http://www.papillow.com/ to reduce leaks, proper hose management so there is no drag on the mask causing leaks; a fleece hose cover, an Australian SleepZone heated hose http://www.sleepzone.com.au/index.html , and hose connectors. See the article on Solving Common Equipment Problems.

Claustrophobia or fear of suffocation may have three causes. One is machine air pressure that is too low, leading to not enough incoming air and insufficient venting of exhaled carbon dioxide. The easy remedy is to increase the machine pressure. A second cause is nasal obstruction, a blocked nose because of nasal congestion, a severely deviated septum, nasal polyps or large nasal turbinates (bony structure). Remedies may be daily nasal irrigation, a CPAP heated humidifier, or nasal surgery. A third cause is mask claustrophobia. A remedy is to overcome fear through desensitization techniques, such as reading or watching TV with the mask and machine on, gradually increasing the time; or through a few behavioral therapy sessions. A book with much good body-mind and mental imagery advice is Sound Sleep, Sound Mind by Dr. Barry Krakow, http://sleeptreatment.com/
Dr. Krakow pioneered a mask adaptation technique called PAP-NAP. Perhaps you can work with your local sleep doctor, sleep lab, or therapist using a similar adaptation technique.

Nasal pillows, nasal prongs, or nose cushions may be good choices for someone with mask claustrophobia, rather than a nasal or full face mask. Discussion thread on mask claustrophobia:
Discussion thread on mask claustrophobia: http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=13970&highlight=claustrophobia

It’s easier to prevent skin breakdowns from mask pressure points than to heal them. If you can’t adjust the mask to get rid of the pressure points, such as the bridge of the nose, then switch to another mask for a few nights, or replace the mask with a better one. If your alternate mask also hits the sore area, put a Band-Aid blister bandage on the sore. Try padding the offending mask with Dr. Scholl's moleskin or moleskin foam, found in the foot section of the drug store. Apply the moleskin to the mask, not your face. If you experience a sore nostril from nasal pillows, inspect the pillows to see if they are damaged. Nasal pillows (not the whole mask) should be replaced every three months or when worn out. Wear another type mask while your nostril heals.

If you have APAP or BiPAP, adjust the mask for leaks at your highest pressure. If it doesn’t leak at the highest pressure, it won’t leak at the lower pressure (unless there is a reason other than pressure for the leak). If possible, remove the mask by undoing a lower clip without readjusting the headgear each time. To get up at night, disconnect the mask from the hose and breathe through your mouth while wearing the mask.

Mask Vent Blowing Air on Your Arm, Hand, Bed Partner
Strangers in the Night

It’s very important that a mask have a vent to clear exhaled carbon dioxide. Never cover the mask vent with bed covers. Allow it to vent. When you get the mask, ask the technician to show you the vent. Vents may be hard to see. If you don’t know where the vent is, put on the mask, turn on the machine, and feel where air is coming out. Unfortunately, almost all vents are placed to vent forward from your face so air blows on your hand, arm, or bed partner. You can learn to sleep with your arm under a cover or pillow and barricade your partner. You can wear long sleeves and even gloves, if you don’t mind looking like Mickey or Minnie Mouse. Most pharmacies sell soft white cotton gloves, worn for hand ointment, behind the counter. If you have a tolerant and resilient bed partner, you need to find creative options so they don’t get caught in nightly windstorms.

One well designed mask vents straight upward, like a chimney, towards the headboard. It doesn’t vent on your forehead, arm, or partner. It’s a nasal pillow mask, the Headrest Twilight NP. See
http://www.cpap.com/productpage/aeiomed-aura-nasal-cpap-interface.html As time goes on, more mask manufacturers may learn to make masks vent less violently.
Leaks can be both good and bad. A good “leak” is actually not a leak. It is called the vent flow rate or flush rate, airflow through the vents, purposely designed to flush away exhaled carbon dioxide. Leakage above that rate is a bad leak from a poorly selected, sized, or fitted mask, leaking from the side if doesn’t rest securely on your face or nostrils. The higher the pressure, the higher the vent flow rate and bad leak rate. Wash your face to remove facial oils before using a mask, and avoid skin moisturizer on your face at night. The mask shouldn’t leak into your eyes (possibly causing conjunctivitis) or anywhere else around its seal. For subtle leaks with nasal pillows, you may not be able to detect leaks by how they feel on your face. Use your hand to feel around the mask for leaks. Another way to detect leaks is by sound. If your mask turns into a sonar device, echoing a new sound off of bed pillows, you have a leak. If your full face mask makes a rude raspberry noise or turns into a wind instrument, you have a large leak.
Some masks are made to “hydroplane” on the face, floating on air for a seal. To adjust it, pull the mask away from your face momentarily so it can inflate and float again. Use sound and hand to detect loose hose connections in your machine around the humidifier connection. If your mask leaks, a very common occurrence, keep experimenting with adjusting it and improvise ways to get a custom fit. If you’ve had the mask for a while and then it begins leaking, check the age of the silicone cushion or nasal pillow. The cushion or pillow (not the whole mask) should be replaced every three months or when worn out. Insurance companies start with Medicare guidelines to design their replacement schedule.
For a discussion thread on interpreting leak rates, see http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic/t14536/Meaning-of-System-Leak-Numbers.html

For a table of vent flow rates of various masks compiled by cpaptalker dsm from other users quoting the manufacturers’ published vent flow rates, see
http://www.internetage.com/cpapinfo/leak-rates-1.html . The numbers along the top line of the chart are machine pressure in cm/H2O. This table is useful if you want to compare the necessary vent flow rate with the leak rate shown by your machine software. The difference allows you to assess how badly your mask is leaking due to a poor fit.

It may take several weeks or months of fiddling with your mask and learning to sleep with it, using a data-capable PAP machine with software to track results, before you achieve a satisfactory low level of leaks and AHI (Apnea Hypopnea Index) with a particular mask. You may need to adjust machine pressure up or down for each mask. Learning when to give up, and when to keep trying, only comes from experience. If you give up on a mask, try it again several months later to see if now you can make it work.

Mouth breathing and mouth leaks
Mouth breathing and mouth leaks are closely related, but not necessarily the same thing.

Mouth breathing occurs when the nasal passages are blocked, so the only way for any air to get into the lungs is through the mouth. People with blocked noses breathe through their mouth, not through their nose. The solution to mouth breathing is to use a full face mask. Some effort and time may be required to find the best full face mask, fit it, and adjust to it. A full face mask does not cover the full face, but it does cover the mouth and nose. Use of nasal irrigation and humidified CPAP, especially with nasal pillows, may open nasal passages that were previously chronically blocked. The person can then learn to breathe through the nose.

Mouth leaks may occur if the person is breathing through their nose, but opens their mouth during sleep. If leakage through the mouth is a persistent problem, CPAP treatment can be rendered completely ineffective. CPAP air detouring out the mouth does nothing to keep the airway open. Either mouth breathing or mouth leakage can also cause feelings of suffocation from apneas still happening and/or just the choking feeling of air rushing out the mouth unexpectedly. Since mouth leaks are unpleasant, the person may unconsciously learn to keep their mouth closed, so the leak goes away. The safest solution to mouth leakage is to use a full face mask. See

Other remedies including using a homemade or commercial chinstrap in hopes that the tongue will maintain an airtight seal inside the mouth if the jaw is kept up. Many people find that chinstraps don’t work to prevent mouth leakage.

Another remedy is to use the tongue to maintain an airtight seal inside the mouth. Some people train the tongue by positioning the tip of the tongue behind the upper front teeth or on the roof of the mouth, and let the tongue spread out in back to seal the throat air passage, even if the lips open. Others use a dental splint, custom made by a dentist, or a do-it-yourself mouth guard to help the tongue maintain an airtight seal.

“The safety of taping the mouth shut has not been proven and there are potential risks of regurgitation and aspiration of food and of suffocation.” TS Johnson MD et al, Sleep Apnea – The Phantom of the Night, p. 167. Mouth taping is especially dangerous for anyone who ever gets blocked nasal passages during the night. If air can’t get in through the nose, it needs to get in through the mouth. Mouth taping is also risky in case of a hose disconnect or power outage, since you would then need to breathe in through the mouth.

For most people, masks are the most difficult part of CPAP therapy. With much prolonged problem-solving, patience, and persistence, you can achieve mask success for a good night’s sleep. See the articles on CPAP Mask Choices, CPAP Adaptation and Recovery and Seven Stages of CPAP and What Is Feeling Good? at

Mike Moran’s humor –The Incredible Growing Mask,

Sources: Based on personal experience with obstructive sleep apnea and gleaned from the collective wisdom of cpaptalk.com contributors.

Want more? See the peer coaching articles at http://smart-sleep-apnea.blogspot.com , http://www.cpap.com FAQ Learning Center, or search http://www.cpaptalk.com or post a message there.

Not written by healthcare professionals. The information and opinions offered are not intended or recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice.

© Mile High Sleeper, August 2006 - 2011. All rights reserved. You may make copies of this message and distribute in any media for free educational purposes, as long as you credit the author and include this copyright notice and the web address smart-sleep-apnea dot blogspot dot com

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