Our quality of sleep affects our quality of life. Unfortunately, many people suffer from sleep disorders. Among the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea affects approximately 22 million Americans today. It occurs when a person's breathing starts and stops repeatedly while they sleep. It causes a person's throat muscles to relax. When this happens, a person may stop breathing for several seconds at a time. Aside from being a nuisance, it can also be dangerous. Sleep apnea masks can help reduce and prevent the common symptoms associated it.
Some of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include loud and excessive snoring, insomnia and difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up with a dry mouth and shortness of breath, and gasping for air while asleep.
What Is A Sleep Apnea Mask?
A sleep apnea mask is one of the most popular and effective forms of treatment for this sleep disorder. The standard therapy is a continuous positive airway pressure mask, also known as a CPAP mask. Patients wear this device over their nose and sometimes their mouth while they sleep. Pressurized air pumps from the machine into the person's airway, ensuring continuous airflow throughout the night. The CPAP mask ensures the patient's airways aren't obstructed or blocked while they sleep.
The mask contains three main components. The first is the CPAP motor: a small, quiet compressor that uses room-temperature air and pressurizes it. This machine usually contains a filter to purify the air it draws in. Some contain small water tanks/humidifiers to produce moisturized air. These are best for people who live in particularly dry climates or who suffer from dry mouth.
The next element is the hose, which delivers the pressurized air from the compressor to the sleep apnea mask. Hoses vary in size, but most are about six feet long.
The final part is the mask, which comes in a range of sizes and shapes. The size and shape depend on the individual, but there are three main categories: nasal masks, nasal pillows, and full-face masks.
Does The Type Of Sleep Mask Matter?
If you're diagnosed with sleep apnea, getting a mask is one of the best forms of treatment. But the type of sleep apnea mask you choose definitely matters. Making sure it is the right fit and size ensures it will work correctly and that it's worn comfortably. If the size is not right, the patient may not get enough airflow and leaks may occur.
Patients diagnosed with sleep apnea typically undergo a sleep study at a sleep clinic, though some can do it at home. The test results reveal the severity of the sleep condition and suggest which treatment option is best. Sometimes, patients sleep overnight at a clinic and wear different sleep apnea masks.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for sleep apnea masks. What works for one patient may not be the best treatment for another. A lot of it depends on the size and shape of a person's face.
These masks are a lightweight option and feature minimal contact with the patient's face. They have nasal seals around the nostrils.
This seal directs the pressurized air into the person's nose, typically on low-to-moderate pressure settings. One benefit of nasal pillows is they leave most of the face exposed.
This allows people to do things like watch TV before bed or do activities that full-face sleep apnea masks make difficult.
Because they do not cover the nose, nasal pillows are usually a great option for people who wear glasses, toss and turn a lot while sleeping, and who are claustrophobic.
Plus, thanks to the nasal pillow seal, air leakage isn't a concern.
Nasal CPAP Mask
This sleep apnea mask covers more of the face than the pillows, but not as much as a full-face CPAP mask.
It typically extends from the bridge of the patient's nose to their upper lip. Airflow is indirect and is often best used on high-pressure settings.
There are a good amount of mask options patients can choose from in this category. These masks are recommended for patients who need high-pressure airflow but wants a more natural airflow.
It's also a suitable option for people who move around a lot in their sleep.
Full-Face CPAP Mask
With this option, the sleep apnea mask covers the nose and mouth, sealing both airways. These are a bit on the bulkier side but are ideal for patients who need high-pressure airflow and tend to breathe from their mouth.
A doctor may recommend this to people who sleep on their back and suffer from allergies and/or congestion, They generally have straps on the side to keep them in place.
Five Steps To Picking The Right Mask
As you can see, there is a range of options to consider when choosing a sleep apnea mask. It's important to keep some things in mind.
The most important things to keep in mind are fit, size and comfort level. Here are some important steps to take when choosing a CPAP mask:
1. Focus on the Health Benefits
While you may not prefer the look of a full-face CPAP mask, if it is the option that offers you the greatest health benefits, it's probably the one you should go with. Your health is most important.
2. Consider Comfort
Finding a mask that best treats and eases your sleep apnea symptoms should be your priority. But, it's also important that you choose a mask that you are comfortable with. If it is uncomfortable, chances are that you may not use it as you should.
3. Get Fitted for the Appropriate Size
Finding your ideal fit may take some time. But it will be worth it in the long run. Sometimes, specialists may fit you for a sleep apnea mask during a sleep study. During this study, someone tests various CPAP interfaces to determine the proper size and pressure settings for you.
When working with sleep specialists, certainly consider their recommendations; but be honest about what you are and are not comfortable with. It's okay to speak up and ask for more options. It's important to find the equipment that works best for you, and specialists can help you do that.
A mask should provide adequate airflow at a comfortable pressure, but it shouldn't be able to move around on your face, since this will cause excessive air leakage. Also, be sure you try different masks on while they are attached to the machine to ensure you'll feel just as comfortable with it in the real-use application as you do with it off.
4. Consider Accessories
Once you have the proper fit and size of your mask, consider extra accessories to make the therapy even more comfortable. For example, if you're using a CPAP mask, there are different headgear options that further secure the mask and provide a more customized fit.
These accessories are available in a variety of materials, such as plastic or Velcro. Besides making the sleep apnea mask more comfortable, they can make it easier to put the mask on, take off, and adjust it as needed.
From chinstraps and liners to humidifiers and cushions, there are plenty of ways to tailor your CPAP mask to suit your specific needs.
5. Make Adjustments as Necessary
The point of wearing a CPAP mask is to treat your sleep apnea. You may think you have found the perfect mask therapy, but if you experience any issues, it's important to address them immediately.
For example, if the mask is uncomfortable, coming off at night, leaving sores on your face, or there's another issue that is turning you against wearing it regularly, this needs to be resolved.
You should wear the sleep apnea mask nightly, so you must correct anything preventing that from happening as soon as possible. Your doctor and sleep specialist will be more than happy to work with you.
With some many options available, there's no reason not to find a CPAP therapy that works for you.
Final Notes On Sleep Masks
Obstructive sleep apnea comes with many risks that can affect your health. Besides causing daytime fatigue and general irritability, sleep apnea can also lead to high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and liver and heart problems. Sleep disorders can also cause a strain on relationships, particularly when an individual's sleep apnea is disrupting the sleep cycles of their partner. There's no need to suffer in silence if you have sleep apnea.
After finding the right CPAP device, patients suffering from sleep apnea often experience a significant decrease in snoring and sleep disturbances. Some report improved quality of sleep, less daytime drowsiness, and even lowered blood pressure. By using the right sleep apnea device, patients reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions.
It may take some time to get used to your new sleep apnea mask. But once you find a suitable and comfortable fit, it's important to use it regularly. Doing so will improve not only your quality of sleep but your quality of life.