Selecting a CPAP Mask
Medically Edited and Reviewed by Dr. Erin Zinkhan MD, BSBE
Selecting a CPAP Mask
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is pressure given to a patient through a nose and/or mouth mask to help keep the airways and lungs open. CPAP usually is used during sleep. CPAP treats conditions such as sleep apnea. You or a loved one may need to select a CPAP mask either now or in the future, and therefore it is helpful to know its basic configuration, the different styles, and proper care of a CPAP mask.
CPAP Mask Anatomy
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP, you will need to select a CPAP mask. A mask consists of several fundamental components, including headgear, frame, cushion, and cushion clip. If you're interested, you can select a mask with more "bells and whistles," but the basic configuration of a CPAP mask does not vary. It is vital that you find a mask that you feel is comfortable and provides the necessary seal for your prescribed pressure. The necessary pressure level cannot be achieved unless you are fit correctly. Additionally, choosing a comfortable mask will make using CPAP therapy a more enjoyable experience. While you are searching for a comfortable CPAP mask, keep in mind the fit, size, and style. For the proper fit and size, you will need to set up a mask fit session with your durable medical equipment company or the sleep clinic where you had your sleep study. To determine which style to select, you just need to know your personal preferences.
CPAP Mask Styles
There are three main styles of CPAP masks: full face (covers your nose and mouth), nasal (covers your nose only), and intranasal (rests inside your nostrils only). A full face mask is ideal for mouth breathers or individuals that switch between nose and mouth breathing. Even if you are a nose-breather, full face masks work well when you are congested or sick because they allow you to breathe through your mouth while still receiving the necessary pressure. Additionally, individuals who only breathe through their nose sometimes prefer the full face mask because it feels like less pressure, even though the same amount of pressure is being given to you.
However, some patients don't like the larger full face mask. If you prefer a smaller and sleeker mask, you can choose a nasal or intranasal style. A nasal mask will only cover your nose. Compared to the full face mask, the nasal mask may feel like more pressure is being given to you even with the same pressure from the CPAP machine. The smallest style, an intranasal CPAP mask, will rest gently on the inside of your nostrils. The intranasal CPAP mask will feel like you're receiving the most pressure compared to the other two CPAP mask styles.
If you know that you breathe through your mouth, yet prefer a smaller CPAP mask style, you can try adding a chin strap, which is a soft strap that goes around the chin to keep the mouth closed.
Masks are stabilized on your face with headgear. It is important that the headgear is neither too tight nor too loose. The headgear should not cause pain, discomfort, or leaking. Many masks integrate "quick release" clips so that you do not have to adjust the headgear every time you need to put on or take off the CPAP mask. However, hook and loop closures will start to give and lose its elasticity over time. We recommend that you undo the hook and loop closure about once a week, slightly tug, and then place it back down on the headgear.
Depending upon your needs, you can select a CPAP mask made of silicone, synthetic rubber, vinyl, or gel-like materials. Different materials will feel different on your face, so try different styles and cushions. Many masks feature an adjustable forehead pad, which allows users to fine-tune adjustments that will alleviate pressure on their forehead, bridge of nose, and sinuses. Many masks have an elbow assembly that rotates 360 degrees so you can sleep in any position without becoming wrapped up by the CPAP tubing. The tubing will swivel with the mask as you turn throughout the night.
CPAP Mask Care
To ensure proper care of your CPAP mask, it is highly recommended that you clean your mask daily. Oils from your skin can cause the cushion cover to break down, which can cause leaks. By cleaning your mask daily, you will increase the life of your CPAP mask and prevent air leaking. You can clean your mask with normal detergent and water. If you clean your CPAP mask with hard water, you may see white spots on your cushion. The spots do not impair the function of your CPAP mask.
If a CPAP mask ever causes you pain or discomfort that is not relieved by adjusting the headgear, test out other masks with your durable medical equipment provider or sleep clinic. There are dozens of different masks to accommodate different facial structures and preferences. New masks are constantly being developed and engineered, too. You can shop for your CPAP mask at Vitality Medical.