7 Common Problems with CPAP and How to Fix Them.

CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is designed to deliver a flow of pressurised air that keeps the back of the throat and upper airway open, so that they don’t collapse during sleep and cause apnea.

It can take a bit of getting used to and here are 7 potential problems and what to do about them.

  1.  Trouble getting used to the CPAP.  Don’t expect to have the perfect night’s sleep when you first get your CPAP machine.  Many people say that for the first few nights they don’t sleep at all, or very little.  Start by wearing it for short periods during the day so that you feel more confident and eventually more comfortable with it.  Wear it with the device switched off and then, when you’re comfortable with the way it feels, switch it on to low flow.
  2. Difficulty with the forced-air feeling.  Get used to this by starting at a low pressure and letting it increase gradually, using the machine’s ‘ramp’ feature.  Your specialist will show you how to do this so that you can handle the machine safely at home.
  3. The mask is uncomfortable.  A well-fitting CPAP mask is essential for the success of the treatment.  If it’s uncomfortable you may even find that you take it off in your sleep!  It shouldn’t rub, irritate the skin or cause pressure sores.  If it’s not comfortable and snugly fitting, talk to your specialist or supplier about other masks as there are plenty of styles to choose from and the size needs to be right for you.
  4. Feeling claustrophobic.  Because the mask needs to be tight-fitting, it can make you feel close in.  Start by holding the mask to your face – no straps or tubing etc.  When you’re more comfortable with that sensation, put on the mask with the straps.  Next, remove the straps but attach the hose and hold the mask to your face with the CPAP machine set to a low pressure setting.  Then finally try this with the straps on the mask and use the ‘ramp’ feature to get used to the air flow.  Do this slowly and in your own time so that you get used to it.
  5. Dry nose.  A dry stuffy nose with CPAP is not uncommon.  Combat this by using a device with a heated humidifier which moistens the air as you breathe.
  6. Dry mouth.  This can be caused by breathing through your mouth as you sleep.  A chin strap may help to keep the mouth closed, a heated humidifier or a full face mask are 3 options to reduce this.
  7. Can’t sleep because of the noise.  Modern CPAP machines should be nearly silent.  If the device is noisier than it has been previously, then check its air filter to make sure it’s clean and not blocked.  If this doesn’t help ask your specialist or supplier to examine the device.  Ear plugs are also useful if you’re a light sleeper and the normal gentle pulsing of the machine stops you from sleeping.

CPAP can be frustrating until you get used to it.  When you do it will bring great benefits to your quality of life and to your health.

There’s more about CPAP here.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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