When it comes to treating sleep apnea, there are few things as important as the breathing mask that you wear in conjunction with your CPAP, BiPAP, or APAP machine. This is because the comfort of the mask, as well as the functionality of the mask, could make or break the effectiveness of the treatment.
Sleep apnea masks that cause excessive discomfort to the patient may worsen the problem beyond the apneas by causing restless sleep due to irritation caused by the mask. Breathing masks that fit poorly or do not make a proper, airtight seal with the face can also reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. Because of this, choosing the correct mask for you is extremely important to the success of your apnea treatment.
For most patients, a sleep apnea breathing mask that covers only the nose is adequate. Held in place with straps that create an airtight seal around the nose, this type of breathing mask is perfect for those who have no difficulties with mouth breathing while sleeping. However, for those who do have difficulty not breathing through the mouth or keeping the mouth closed while asleep should consider a breathing mask that also covers the mouth.
Almost all of the sleep apnea breathing masks available today have what is called a built in leak, which allows air exchange through a one-way valve on the face of the breathing masks. When the patient exhales, the air is expelled through the valve, ensuring a constant supply of fresh air. Breathing masks usually have a strap that goes under the chin as well to further ensure the mouth stays closed while the patient sleeps. If the face mask makes the patient feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic, however, alternatives exist that are less enclosing.
Nasal pillows are small pliable pieces of plastic that are inserted into the nostrils. Once inserted, they form the seal against the inner walls of the nose. Because of this, there is little need for headgear, although some forms of this type of breathing apparatus come with straps to go under the chin to prevent the mouth from falling open. Because of the distinct lack of headgear, the user may find that it is more comfortable to wear nasal pillows than the traditional breathing mask. However, patients who are administered higher pressures of air should be cautious of using nasal pillows for this very reason, as there is far less security in the seal, which is much easier to break when experiencing higher pressures.
A similar delivery interface closely resembles nasal cannula. The tubing is inserted into the nostrils in a manner that causes a seal to form due to the large diameter of the hosing. Besides the lack of plastic pieces to form the seal, the nasal cannula functions exactly the same as the nasal pillows.
No matter what kind of sleep apnea breathing mask or apparatus you choose, be sure that it is comfortable and functional. Nothing is worse than attempting to use a device that is insufficient to your needs, as the treatment is then rendered ineffective. Be sure to tell your doctor of any complaints you may have with your current breathing mask, and don't be afraid to try many masks before settling on a permanent solution.