The type of apnea mask and sizing could be the most important aspect in the treatment of sleep apnea.
Most Respiratory Therapists agree that the proper apnea mask type and sizing is critical to obtaining CPAP sleep apnea therapy compliance. An uncomfortable mask will not only make it difficult to sleep, but, will make you not want to wear it.
Most patients are initially fitted for an apnea mask at the sleep laboratory. However, CPAP mask sizing can be an imperfect process.
Make sure that you only use a specialized Medical Equipment Professional (usually a Respiratory Therapist) when getting “sized up” for a mask.
Additionally, the specialist need to have been trained by the Mask Manufacturers. It is the only way to ensure that you get a proper fit.
The different types of sleep apnea masks
Listed below are the various apnea mask types that are available today.
Please note, it is very possible that the Sleep Lab where initial testing and fitting takes place may not of had all of these mask types, so check them closely to make sure you have a clear understanding of all of the different mask options.
- Nasal or Nose Apnea Mask: It is held in place with straps or headgear and seals around the entire nose. The Nasal apnea mask is typically recommended for first-time CPAP users.
- Full Face Apnea Mask: It is also held in place with straps or headgear and seals around both the mouth and nose. The full Face Mask is recommended for people who regularly breathe out of their mouth. When someone is a “mouth breather”, their mouth stays open during sleep. This causes the CPAP air pressure blowing through the Nasal Mask to escape. Thus, rendering the CPAP sleep apnea therapy ineffective as the pressure meant to hold the airway open flows out of the mouth instead of into the airway. The Full Face Apnea Mask creates an environment that equalizes the pressure in both the mouth and nose. The Full Face Apnea Mask also works well for someone who suffers from cases of nasal blockage or congestion from common colds or allergies.
- Nasal or Nose Cushion Mask: This sleep apnea mask works in a similar fashion to the Nasal Mask using a nose cushion that seals over both nostrils, but it differs in the fact that it also fits under the nose instead of around the nose. Additionally, the cushion does not rest on the bridge of the nose or fit over tip of the nose. There are numerous sized cushions available for easy fit.
- Nasal pillows: These devices seal against the outside edge of each nostril. The pillows open into the nostril but are not inserted inside. Nasal pillows are useful for people who sleep on their stomach or side, or for those with mustache or beard.
- Nasal Prongs: This device is inserted into each nostril and rather than sealing around the outside edge of the nose, it seals the inside.
- Oral Apnea Mask: This device fits into the mouth to deliver the CPAP air pressure. It is available in only one size and is intended to fit any user. When this device is used, the CPAP air is not conditioned by the mucous membranes in the nose which results in drying out the mouth. As a result, the Oral Mask requires the use of a heated humidifier attached to CPAP Machine.
- Total Face Apnea Mask: This mask works in a similar fashion to a Full Face mask except that it covers every opening on the face in areas where air might leak out. A total face mask makes a seal over the entire area of the face, down the sides, under the chin, and at the forehead. It is exclusively used for someone who sleeps on their back. In fact, this is typically used as a “last resort”.
Apnea Mask Replacement
The good news is that most insurance companies will typically allow for mask cushion replacement every 90 days and a complete new apnea mask system every 6 months.
Typically after six months of use most mask cushions start to deteriorate causing the material in the mask to become too soft to hold a seal.
It is generally recommended that you should replace pillows or cushions as soon as they start to soften.
Additionally, be on the lookout for mask air leaks because they may reduce the effectiveness of CPAP sleep apnea therapy and try to avoid headgear that is too tight which has known to cause facial sores at pressure points.