Choosing a properly fitting CPAP mask is one of the most important decisions that will be made while treating sleep apnea – possibly even more important than choosing the CPAP machine itself. The typical mask fits over the sleeper’s nose, but this may not provide an adequate delivery system for some people. Many will require a CPAP full face mask, which covers the nose and mouth in order to get the full effect of their CPAP machine.
Who Needs a CPAP Full Face Mask?
Some people breathe almost exclusively through their mouths when they sleep, which means a standard nasal CPAP mask will not be able to keep their airway open. One option is to continue to use a nasal mask, along with headgear that has a chin strap to keep the mouth closed. If you find this arrangement uncomfortable, an alternative is a full face CPAP mask, which covers both the nose and mouth. This mask allows the pressurized air to hold the sleeper’s airway open so a full night’s sleep can be experienced.
The CPAP full face mask may not be an option for all patients, particularly those who grind their teeth. It also is not a feasible choice for people who have had certain surgeries for obstructive sleep apnea. Another caution is to those who regularly breathe through the mouth because of nasal obstruction. In this case, you should involve an ear-nose-throat physician in your mask selection. In this case, a CPAP full face mask is your only choice as a chin strap should not be used.
Special Considerations for Using a CPAP Full Face Mask
Breathing through the nose warms and moisturizes the air going to your lungs. For mouth breathing sleepers to realize this same benefit, the full face mask usually requires a heated CPAP humidifier to help moisten the air and provide comfort.
Facial hair can interfere with the seal of a CPAP full face mask and men must be sure to shave regularly to ensure a tight seal. Men with rapid facial hair growth may need to shave before going to bed. If you have a beard, it will have to be trimmed to allow the mask to seal or, in extreme cases, may have to be shaved off completely. More often, a man with a beard will opt for another type of CPAP mask.
Dry skin can interfere with the proper seal of the mask. A skin moisturizer can help create a better seal, though it will slightly reduce the life of the mask as it degrades the seal material. At the other end of the spectrum, oily skin can also interfere with the proper seal of the mask and will also require attention for proper CPAP therapy.
Get advice from others
When making the decision whether a CPAP full face mask is right for you, and when trying to choose the right mask, talk to your doctor for advice specific to your sleep apnea. Consult your medical insurance to be sure they cover the features you want.
Other CPAP users are a great source of information on shopping for the right mask, tips for adjusting your equipment, and other hints that can make your experience the best it can be. Support groups like A.W.A.K.E. can be an invaluable resource for both new and experienced CPAP users.
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