There have been hundreds of models of CPAP masks over the years.The traditional styles of masks are very cumbersome and bulky. Their level of comfort and aesthetics reflected the design and technology available at the time.
The CPAP mask design and technology is always evolving. After many years through research and development,we have seen a significant improvement in the masks design; they are smaller, lighter and less obtrusive as well as much more effective and comfortable to wear.
There are 3 types of CPAP Mask on the market; Nasal Pillows, Nasal and Full Face masks.
Not only does the three mask types give patients more variety, but each interface is specifically designed to cater for an individual depending on their most comfortable and natural way to breathe.
The nasal pillows are the lightest and most discrete type of mask available and are generally the patient’s first choice given its size.
Theoretically, the nasal pillows and nasal mask are suited to those who can freely breathe through their nose without congestion or sinus irritation. It is important that the mouth does not open while using a nasal mask or all the air will escape and defeat the purpose of stabilising the airways.
When we are asleep and the airways are supported, our breathing rate slows down because there is no need to inhale large amounts of oxygen (we aren’t running a marathon!). In most cases, nasal breathing allows enough airflow and we will tend to close our mouths naturally.
However, if there is anything that prevents us to freely breathe through our nose then it will prove difficult to inhale enough air through the nose and therefore, we will resort to opening our mouths to breathe. Common reasons for mouth breathing include; nasal congestion and/or sinusitis, deviated septum’s or if the nose has been broken in the past.
Depending on the severity, some individuals may be able to use temporary (sometimes long-term) measures to train themselves to breathe through their nose. The most common aids include a chin strap and lip tape.
The chin strap is separate to the mask. It generally goes on first and is designed to offer support to the mandible jaw preventing it from falling back (and therefore opening the mouth) during the night as we sleep. The chin strap may be enough to take the weight of the jaw but it will not prevent you from opening your lips or talking while wearing it. If you find that air is still escaping through the lips while you sleep then you may need to also add the use of some lip tape.
Lip tape is a medical grade tape that is gentle on the skin but firm enough purse the lips together and preventing air from escaping. Most people at first thought compare it to the use of duct tape however that is not the case!
How do you know if your lips are opening? You may find yourself blowing bubbles (usually detected by a bed partner), you wake with a dry mouth or even through drooling!
Two common brands of tape are Micropore and Leukopor, both are generally available from your local chemist. Running a small piece of tape vertically across the upper and lower lip may be enough however there is no harm if a different method of application is preferred.
Rest assured if your body needed to breathe through its mouth for any reason during the night, you will certainly be able to fight through the tape if you don’t end up removing the mask first. There is no risk of suffocation or inability to breathe if that is a concern.
Anxiety, panic and stress are common emotions when first starting out on CPAP. The introduction to an unfamiliar, foreign object on your face when you are in a vulnerable state can be quite intimidating. This can also affect the ability to breathe comfortably and easily through your nose. The individual may not necessarily suffer from nasal congestion however it may be in their best interest to begin therapy on a full face mask before resorting to a nasal interface.
A full face mask refers to a mask that covers the nose and mouth. The traditional full face mask is the main reason why CPAP has received such negative stereotypes over the years as it is associated with the big, bulky and invasive ‘gas mask’ that has been featured in horror films as a torture device.
You may be familiar with references such as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter or even Bane.
The full face mask has received the most attention over the years in regards to improving it’s design. What once was very large and cumbersome is now much smaller and lighter with even more efficiency. It does not matter whether the patient breathes through their nose or mouth as both are covered within the mask. This can sometimes offer the patient some relief when first beginning on CPAP as they are able to breathe in whatever way that comes naturally without restriction.
Like all masks, there is a disadvantage to using a full face mask. In order for it to cover the nose and mouth, the mask has more surface contact with the face which can sometimes prove uncomfortable in warmer climates and create more potential areas of where the mask could leak. A common area for air leaking with a full face mask is around the chin. The jaw naturally moves when we rest our head on the pillow, change sleeping positions and even relax the muscles going off to sleep.
Most full face masks designs have catered for a small amount of movement during use. To achieve the optimal seal, with all masks, we recommend having the it professionally fitted by a CPAP Clinician or by following the mask fitting guide of the mask’s manufacturer.
Facial hair can also impact the ability for the mask to seal however it can generally be overcome by making sure the mask is a correct fit and in good condition (the silicone is no older than 12 months old).
The life expectancy of a CPAP Mask is approximately 12-18 months. Through wear and tear, the mask will deteriorate over time and its ability to maintain a seal will decline as it ages. Regular cleaning of the mask with some gentle dishwashing liquid on a daily basis will ensure the mask lasts as long as possible.
The mask’s cushion (also known as silicone seal) along with the headgear are the two main components that require replacement every year. It is possible to purchase both of these items separately to replace the old; in most cases this will renew the condition of the mask and get you back to a good nights sleep however you also have the option to replace the whole mask if desired.
Almost all the CPAP Masks are compatible with all CPAP Machines on the market. For example, you are not restricted to use a F&P mask if you have a F&P machine.
The main points to take away is that there is no ‘correct’ way to breathe. It does not matter if a chin strap or full face mask is required, it all comes down to what you find is the most comfortable to wear and whether or not it is going to help you get a good nights sleep.
We encourage everyone to trial masks until they find one that is most suitable for them as it differs among everyone.
If you had any questions about your existing mask and whether it’s the right fit for you or perhaps you had questions on new styles, please feel free to contact the crew at CPAP Direct for professional, unbiased advice.