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PAP (CPAP, APAP, or BiPAP) treatment works wonders in many people’s lives. Sleep Apnea can be treated through the use of this equipment. Usually the most difficult part of the therapy is finding the right mask and adjusting to it. Here are some tips for being a smart mask shopper and user. You are the one who needs to sleep with the mask all night, every night. Research the decision well.
If you want to go right to the point, view these separate pages on the issue of which masks are heralded by CPAPtalk members like you.
Masks, also called interfaces, are problematic for most PAP users because of their design and fit. Most masks come in only three to five sizes. It’s as if all the men and women in the world were expected to fit into only three unisex shoe sizes, but worse. Manufacturers make custom eyeglasses, dentures, clothes, orthotics (shoe insoles), shoes, but generally not custom CPAP masks. Despite each person’s unique facial contours, facial hair, and unique muscle relaxation in deep sleep, despite the force of air pressure and humidified air and sweat, masks are expected to fit everyone comfortably and not leak. That doesn’t happen readily. Common mask problems are fit and discomfort at pressure points on the nose and face, uncomfortable and noisy leakage of air from the mask, noise from the air vents, discomfort with the headgear to hold the mask in place, and air blowing from the mask vents onto your hand, arm, or your bed partner. All these mask problems affect the quality of sleep, number of apneaic events, likelihood of adherence or compliance with the treatment, and resulting health and longevity.
Mask evolution lags far behind machine evolution. With so many people yet undiagnosed with sleep apnea, there is a huge potential market which may funnel dollars into better mask design and production in the future.
It’s important that your mask (and everything else) be comfortable. With sleep therapy, comfort is not just a luxury, it’s a necessity for successful treatment. In the daytime, when you are awake and not exhausted, you could tough it out and handle a difficult physical therapy for a few hours. But at night, when you are exhausted, vulnerable, extra sensitive, and need to sleep, your mask needs to be compatible with sleep all night long. In other words, comfortable. Although people have great capacity to adjust and “sleep though anything,” there is a limit.
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 PAP heated humidifier, fleece hose cover, Australian SleepZone heated hose http://www.sleepzone.com.au/index.html, and hose connectors. See the articles on Solving CPAP Mask Problems and Solving Common Equipment Problems.
To minimize mask leaks, go to bed with a clean face, avoid facial moisturizers at night, and wash facial oils off your mask each morning. See the article on Equipment Cleaning.
By law, CPAP masks require a doctor’s prescription for purchase. The prescription can be generic, allowing you to make your own choice. If you want a specific brand and model from a DME, it’s better if the prescription is specific for that mask, so you get exactly what you want. If a mask is bought online, a prescription is required. Check in advance to see if your insurance company will reimburse you for online purchases, unless you decide to pay for it yourself.
Three main types are nasal masks which cover the nose, nasal pillows which snug against the openings of the nostrils, and full face masks which cover the nose and mouth. Additional useful types are a hybrid mask that combines nasal pillows and a mouth mask, nasal prongs or cannula which fit into the nostrils, nose cushions which fit under the nose, a nasal pillow interface that is held in place by a mouth piece, and an oral mask that blows air into the mouth only. On cpap.com see Answers, Masks at https://www.cpap.com/cpap-faq/Masks.html#52.
There are many brands and models of masks in each category. Any type of mask generally works with any type of PAP machine. One manufacturer’s brand of nasal mask may not work for you; another manufacturer’s may work well; and the same for nasal pillows, full face masks, and all the other types.
1. Good mask selection
2. Good mask fitting
3. Get two different types of mask near the start of treatment
There are a lucky few who experience no mask discomfort or leakage from the start. If you find that your first mask works, you may not want to explore another until your insurance will pay for it in six months. More common is the need to try several masks before finding one that works. Ask about a 30-day return policy.
With any mask, do what you can to make sure the respiratory therapist fits it properly at the start and shows you how to adjust the fit yourself. In addition, you will probably have to do your own repeated fitting and tweaking to make it work, tested over many nights. Once you get a good fit, if it’s possible with your mask, don’t change the headgear adjustments. Undo a clip or two to remove the mask, and leave the headgear as is. There is a time incompatibility. Your working unit of time for mask-success is nightly. The timeframe of your doctor, insurance, and DME to approve and get you another mask is probably in weeks. If your first mask doesn’t work, this means weeks of nightly discomfort and frustration while waiting for your next mask and the temptation to give up on PAP. Discuss with your physician the option of getting two types of masks (nasal mask, nasal pillows, full face mask, etc.) near the start of your therapy. For example, if you start with a nasal mask and discover after two weeks that you have a chronically congested nose on PAP, you may have a medical necessity for a full face mask.
Advantages to having more than one type of mask near the start: you can continue your nightly PAP therapy if one mask doesn’t work or it breaks. If the nasal pillows make your nostrils sore, you can switch to a nasal mask the next night; or if a nasal mask makes your face sore at pressure points, you can switch to nasal pillows. Or, if your nose is stuffy or you have seasonal allergies, you can switch to a full face mask. If you want to take a daytime nap but your mask is still wet from morning cleaning, you have a dry back-up mask.
Disadvantages: insurance may pay for only one mask at the start or may pay for medically necessary masks only over a period of months. The usual insurance schedule for a new mask due to wear, usually based on Medicare guidelines, is every six months. Mask cushions and nasal pillows are replaced more frequently. See Medicare replacement guidelines at http://www.billmyinsurance.com/cpap-faq/Medicare.html#14 You may need to buy the less expensive second mask on your own. Your successful therapy and health are worth it, if your budget allows.
At the start, it may seem overwhelming to research and adapt to two types of masks instead of one. You may not be psychologically ready to try a type of mask you are resistant to, such as a full face, until you have become accustomed to another type, such as a nasal mask, and found that it too has limitations. A remedy is to balance the level of your confusion and resistance with the convenience of having a back-up option on hand. You may be tempted to not give each type and brand of mask a fair trial. A remedy is to stick with one (for example, nasal mask) until it works or you give up on trying to make it work; then switch to the other type (nasal pillows), while you then continue to explore other brands of nasal masks or types of masks, and so on. Exception: if you know in advance that you must breathe through your mouth, you will need only a full face mask. You might try just one, since they are the most costly of the mask types.
Strike a balance between suffering with a badly matched mask for six months, or trying too many masks too fast. If your first mask isn’t working, research other masks online for ideas and revisit your doctor and/or respiratory therapist. Your relationship with your mask and other CPAP equipment is important. Like any other relationship, it requires patience and work and brings its own rewards.
CPAPtalkers participated in research of Mask Leak Rates of many popular masks. A leaky mask is an ineffective and uncomfortable mask. Learn about the leak rates here
Change only one thing at a time.
This way you are able to isolate which variable is most helpful to your therapy.
SleepyT of CPAPtalk broke the golden rule and paid for it, read the thread.
The choice of mask involves advice received from your doctor, your respiratory therapist or sleep technician and yourself, since you have to live with it. The RT may be informed only about the masks in their inventory, which is limited by the manufacturers they represent. You can learn more about equipment from this CPAP wiki, from CPAP talk, and product pages of CPAP.com . For example, it’s said that Apria favors Respironics masks and Lincare favors ResMed masks because of their contracts with those manufacturers. Your patient needs are not necessarily the same as the DME’s business contract or need to move inventory. Beware of a DME that carries only Respironics masks and says that they have found that ResMed masks don’t work very well, and vice versa, because they may be putting their profit motive ahead of your best health option. The DME may be able to special order brands they don’t normally stock, but not initially suggest them unless you request it or have a prescription for a specific mask. Even professional and ethical respiratory therapists may have knowledge gaps and be biased about masks they have experience with, but they aren’t the one who needs to wear it. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort out biased opinions from sound professional advice. Keep searching in your region or online until you find someone whose judgment you can trust. A good source of professional help may be a hospital sleep lab supervisor or sleep technician, since they work with different brands and models of masks nightly, and are usually not selling any one product line.
Trial and error is the only way to discover the best mask for you, but you can maximize your chance of success. Because mask selection is so individual and difficult, some people have a collection of masks they’ve bought on their own, many of them expensive failures. To minimize this problem, try before you buy, if at all possible. Research masks on the Internet at online CPAP stores and manufacturers’ web sites. Make a list of masks that look promising. Then try to find a local source for getting those masks for you to try in your size.
An excellent place to try masks, if you can find one, is a hospital sleep lab, morning or early evening when they aren’t doing sleep tests. A sleep lab can sterilize masks, so they are able to have demo masks for trials. The sleep lab may have a supervisor or sleep technicians who are expert mask fitters and advisors, who can suggest a mask size (which varies by brand and model) and can test your mask under your prescribed pressure, checking for leaks with their equipment, while you are lying down on your back and sides. They may do this for free, charge a small fee, combine it with other medical services, or act as a DME. If they also sell masks, do they have a 30 day return policy if the mask doesn’t work?
If you are buying at your own expense and there is a small price difference between the local source and online DME, perhaps it’s worth the difference to pay more locally for high quality service. If it’s two or three times or more the cost of buying online, your income and sense of fairness may be the deciding factors. Masks are also sold on online auctions. If you buy a used mask, there is a risk if the previous owner had a staph infection and the mask has not been sterilized.
Will your local DME get the masks you want and let you try them before buying? Are there other DMES on your insurance plan? Or another DME not on your insurance plan who will let you try masks? How long will it take them to get the masks you want to try? To find the better DME companies, ask for recommendations from a hospital sleep lab or a sleep doctor. Many people get frustrated with repeated inferior service from the only large national DME on their insurance plan, and just order online for more accurate information, better service, faster delivery, and lower prices.
For CPAP users comments on using a DME, see the discussion thread http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=11021.
Wherever you try on a mask, it should first be expertly sized and fitted by a technician while you are sitting up, then tried under your prescribed pressure and checked for leaks (by equipment at a sleep lab or by feel at a DME) while you are lying down on your back and sides. Sitting up in a chair with a mask on does not reflect what the mask will do when you are in bed and your facial features adjust to gravity while laying down. If you run into resistance from the DME to trying masks lying down under machine pressure, know that they are pretending to fit the mask, not actually doing it. A few people actually come to the DME with a pillow and insist upon lying on the floor to get their mask fitted and checked for leaks in various positions. If the RT does little more than take the mask out of the box, put it on your head and say “there,” you aren’t getting a real mask fitting.
Does the respiratory therapist have enough expertise to fit the mask properly and advise you about how well a given mask will work for you? If not, ask for a different RT who knows how to fit masks, or go to another office of the same DME that does fittings lying down, find another DME company for mask fitting, or better yet, go to a sleep lab or center. See the relevant CPAP talk post.
People go to optical shops to get their eyeglasses fitted and periodically adjusted. Mask fitting is even more complex. Once you have a mask, you may need help with the initial mask fitting and maybe follow-up. Each mask and each person is different, but the RT or sleep technician should be able to give you some general principles of fitting a particular mask, a show-and-tell. “Keep this part firm, this part looser. Adjust this part first, then this part. Watch for this and that. To take it off, do this.” Remember the tips or take notes and keep them with the mask.
People are sometimes forced to “lab rat” and experiment to customize the fit and comfort, but find the effort worthwhile. They ask for help and share their many ideas on www.cpaptalk.com.
A nasal mask covers just the nose. In terms of bulkiness the nasal mask is midway between the full face mask and nasal pillows. As such, it may be a good starter mask, to try out moderate bulkiness and see how you adjust to it. Some people prefer to have just their nose covered; others don’t like it.
In this section, specific mask options are explored. This list is not comprehensive at this time, and is ready for your input.
See full article [here].
1. Nasal pillows are a last resort when all other masks fail.
2. Nasal pillows make your nose all sore and crusty.
3. Nasal pillows are not for use every night.
4. Nasal pillows can’t be used with autopap machines.
5. Nasal pillows can’t be used with high pressures.
Nasal pillows nestle up against the nostrils. They are the least bulky of the three mask types and may be good for people with mask claustrophobia. Since they deliver air directly into the nostrils, they may work well along with heated humidification to help clear nasal congestion or for people with a deviated septum. Users find nasal pillows light and comfortable. There is a difference in the comfort level (softness vs. stiffness), shape, and size of the pillows from one brand to another. A larger size nasal pillow than expected may be the right size for you. Some brands have vents that are quieter, some noisier. Nasal pillows should work with all autopap (APAP) machines; if in doubt, phone the mask manufacturer’s customer service number.
One noteworthy nasal pillows mask is Invacare’s Twilight NP nasal pillows, formerly called the Aura, because it has soft, squishy pillows, vents straight upward like a chimney rather than on your arm or bed partner, is light weight with quiet vents, and has headgear that fits like a baseball cap. For people with very large nares (nostril openings), the two pillow sizes may be too small. For small heads, the large headgear requires reconstruction or removal. The Twilight is susceptible to rainout (condensation) in the mask itself and may require its own hose cover and wrapping. Because of its advantages, fans of this mask find it worthwhile to modify it.
With nasal pillows, a light gel nasal moisturizer made for use with nasal cannula is recommended as nightly lubricant and protection, found at medical supply stores or online. One product used in hospitals is Cann-Ease Nasal Moisturizer with aloe vera, phone 1-888-443-3031. Another product is water-based KY jelly or its generic version. To avoid any ingredient that will break down the mask silicone over time, use products made for nasal cannula.
Some people find a nasal gel with saline irritating over time. Avoid the widely used preservative benzalkonium chloride in the nose because it can cause a rebound effect over time. Avoid mercury preservatives (thimerosol). Although some people use All Natural Chapstick lip balm, bag balm, or other skin salves, others advise against use of any of these oily products because of the rare but potential hazard of lipoid pneumonia in the lungs. This hazard can be avoided by using water-based products made for nasal cannula. Avoid products with mint, lavender, and other fragrances that you don’t want to smell so intensely. If you are using oxygen with CPAP, avoid Vaseline and petroleum-based products because of hazard to the lungs. See http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic/t14588/Mask-gone-Pillows-hurt-frustration-and-other-delights.html
Examples of popular nasal pillows are the Puritan Bennett Breeze, Respironics ComfortLite 2, Invacare Twilight NP (formerly called the Aura), ResMed Swift.
See nasal pillows selections at https://www.cpap.com/simple-find-cpap-products/simple-find-cpap-products.php?selected=NASALPILLOWMASKSYSTEMS
Scroll down to see Nasal Pillows Brands Line Preference and comments at https://www.cpap.com/cpap-user-preference.php
For a typical user discussion of nasal pillows and similar masks, see http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=10728
Full face masks don’t really cover the full face, but cover both nose and mouth, so you have a choice of breathing through one or both. It seems rather counterintuitive, but a full face mask may be more comfortable for some than a nasal mask; perhaps because it’s more like the feeling of the edge of your hand cupping the nose and mouth. Full face masks work well for people who breathe through their mouth out of habit or because of congested nasal passages. It’s handy to have a full face mask on hand in case of head colds, allergies, or sore nares from nasal pillows. Full face masks require a heated humidifier so your mouth and throat don’t get dry. If you also have a heated hose, the additional warmth helps keep the humidity level up.
Full face masks have more facial contours to fit and so tend to leak more than other masks. They are the bulkiest of the masks, have confining headgear, and don’t work well for people with mask claustrophobia, unless they overcome it through desensitization techniques. If you are worried about what would happen in case of a power outage while wearing a full face mask, the manufacturers have designed vents so you can continue to get air. The Food and Drug Administration approves all masks before they can be sold in the US.
A version of a less bulky full face mask is the RespCare Hybrid Universal Full Face CPAP Mask with Nasal Pillows at https://www.cpap.com/productpage-advanced.php?PNum=2204. Use the Search on cpaptalk.com to find discussion about fitting and customizing the mask.
Examples of popular full face masks are the ResMed Ultra Mirage Full Face, Respironics ComfortFull 2, Fisher & Paykel HC Flexfit 431, and the Teleflex Medical Hybrid.
See full face mask selections by manufacturer at https://www.cpap.com/simple-find-cpap-products/cpap-mask
Scroll down to see Full Face Mask Brands Line Preference at https://www.cpap.com/cpap-user-preference.php
For nasal prongs or cannula, see https://www.cpap.com/simple-find-cpap-products/simple-find-cpap-products.php?selected=INNOMED. Examples of popular nasal prong is the NasalAire II or the Snapp 2 (older model - Snapp X).
For nose cushions, see the Respironics ComfortLite2 at https://www.cpap.com/productpage/Comfort-Lite-2-Nasal-Interface-CPAP-Mask.htmland the Respironics ComfortCurve at https://www.cpap.com/productpage.php?PNum=1842&PAID=209
There are two interfaces using the mouth. Both require that you keep your mouth closed or they will leak. Before considering one, talk with a sleep dentist (one experienced in working with dental devices for obstructive sleep apnea patients) or prostodontist about potential effects of misalignment of teeth and jaw and TMJ because of using such devices. For CPAP PRO nasal pillows that use an oral interface (boil-and-bite mouth piece), see http://www.nomask.com/. For the Fisher and Paykel Oracle 452 Oral Mask, see https://www.cpap.com/productpage/fisherandpaykel-fisher-paykel-oracle-452-nasal-cpap-mask.html.
For most people with sleep apnea, 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 Problems, CPAP Adaptation and Recovery and Seven Stages of CPAP and What Is Feeling Good? at http://smart-sleep-apnea.blogspot.com
Mike Moran’s humor – Confession of an Interface Junkie, http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=4700
Sources: Based on personal experience with obstructive sleep apnea, gleaned from the collective wisdom of cpaptalk.com contributors, and TS Johnson MD et al, Sleep Apnea – The Phantom of the Night
Want more? See manufacturer interviews and user reviews at http://www.cpaptalk.com/archived-cpap-interviews.php
Discussion thread on mask satisfaction http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic/t15365/TroubleFree-Masks.html?sid=8d651dae0ba3b7882cfbdfdb9da29d50
Fisher and Paykel mask discussion links, http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic/t14594/LINKS-to-FampP-FlexiFit-nasal-mask-and-431432-FF-topics.html
Australian customized mask, http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=19232&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
See the peer coaching articles on Tips for Newcomers to Sleep Apnea, CPAP Pressure Settings, Ready to Give Up at http://smart-sleep-apnea.blogspot.com . Search or post a message on www.cpaptalk.com .
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 2006-2008. Permission to use for free educational purposes.
One man’s meat is another man’s poison, especially when it comes to masks.
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 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, Australian SleepZone heated hose http://www.sleepzone.com.au/index.html, and hose connectors. See the article on Solving Common Equipment Problems.
What Every CPAPer Needs to Know Many helpful hints
Mike Moran’s humor –The Incredible Growing Mask, http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic.php?p=63381