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How to Manage CPAP Side Effects

As with any major change to your routine or medical treatment, starting to use a CPAP machine will come with an adjustment period. Unfortunately this adjustment period can bring some uncomfortable side effects. It’s important to be patient with yourself, your equipment and your treatment plan as you get used to the “new normal.” But being aware of the typical side effects of CPAP usage and how to manage them will help you persevere and find an approach that works for you.

Common CPAP Side Effects

Most CPAP side effects are not severe, but they can cause discomfort. While some side effects become more manageable or fade over time, some are indications that treatment might need to be adjusted. The most common side effects of using a CPAP include:

  • Dry or stuffy nose/nosebleeds
  • Dry Mouth
  • General mask discomfort
  • Skin irritation
  • Dry mouth
  • Claustrophobia
  • Aerophagia (swallowing air causing bloating or gas)

How to reduce and prevent CPAP side effects

The good news is, most of these side effects can be remedied with the right adjustments or will naturally fade once you get used to your CPAP machine. There are several ways you can minimize your side effects and optimize the effects of your CPAP so you can sleep well and enjoy your day-to-day.

  • Practice.
    Learning anything new takes practice, and using a CPAP machine is no exception. It’s important to remember this as you start your CPAP journey. Some patients express discomfort or even claustrophobia when they begin wearing their mask to sleep. Many professionals suggest wearing the mask during the day to become more comfortable with it. Try putting it on for short periods of time while watching T.V., for example. Once wearing the mask itself feels more comfortable, try wearing it with the device turned on. The more time you are able to practice wearing it in a low-risk scenario, the more easily you will adjust to wearing it at night. If you still find it unmanageable after a few weeks, talk to your doctor. You may need to try a different type of mask.
  • Clean your mask regularly.
    It’s important to care for your CPAP and accessories to ensure they last, but it’s also important to lower the risk of irritation or illness. The oils from your face and dead skin cells are constantly accumulating on the surface of your mask, which can cause skin irritation on your face. Moisture is also trapped in the mask and tubing while in use — not to mention the humidifier chamber — which can be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. It’s important to clean these parts after every use to avoid these issues.
  • Avoid using excess oils on your face.
    Whenever possible, do not add oils to your face through moisturizer or other skin products before using your mask. It can break down the mask material more quickly,  and it can add to skin irritation.
  • Use the right fitting mask.
    It cannot be overstated how important it is to make sure your mask fits properly. This is a major key to avoiding dry nose/mouth, and it also impacts the effectiveness of your device. A mask leak lets out moisture, which can lead to dry nose and congestion. (Congestion is your body’s response in an attempt to lubricate your nose with mucus.) Most manufacturers recommend placing the device on your face loosely while lying down, then finding a comfortable sleeping position. Then, tighten the straps to secure the mask, but be sure to avoid over-tightening. If you are still experiencing leaks or finding it uncomfortable after a few weeks, talk to your doctor about finding another type of mask.
  • Use a humidifier.
    Many CPAP machines include an attached humidifier to minimize dry nose/mouth issues. If yours does not, you can add one. (This can be particularly helpful if you live in a humid climate and use air conditioning or dehumidifiers in your home. Breathing the dry, cold air through your CPAP can cause dry nose/mouth issues.)
  • Try heated tubing.
    Another way to avoid breathing cold, dry air all night is to try heated tubing. It maintains the warmth and moisture coming from your machine to help minimize dry nose/mouth issues.
  • Adjust your pressure.
    If you find yourself experiencing aerophagia (swallowing air), you might need to adjust the air pressure on your CPAP machine. Before you do this, it’s important to talk to your doctor, especially if you’re new to CPAP usage. There are a few other reasons you might want to adjust your pressure: waking during the night, unknowingly removing your mask during the night, poor quality sleep, or simply feeling uncomfortable. There is no “right” or “wrong” level of pressure; it’s all about what works best for you. There are also CPAP machines with the ability to adjust pressure automatically throughout your therapy. Talk to your physician about your symptoms to determine the best course of action.
  • Try the ramp feature.
    If you’re just starting CPAP usage and aren’t used to the level of pressure, you can also try using the ramp feature on your device. This gradually increases the level of pressure so your body can adjust more easily. Most CPAP devices have this feature. Check your manufacturer guidelines if you’re not sure if your device is capable.

Successful CPAP usage takes time and patience, but it’s worth it. These short-term side effects are much less damaging than the long-term effects of sleep apnea, like heart attack and stroke. Work with your doctor to find the right settings for you so you can sleep better and enjoy a long, healthy life.

Learn more about how to get the most out of your CPAP machine on the Sleep8 blog.

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50% of people who use a CPAP give up.

Here are some helpful tips to make it work for you.

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