Help! I hate my CPAP. How do I make this work?

Side Effects of CPAP Use and What You Can Do

Ah, so many people have a love/hate relationship with their CPAP machine. They love that it decreases their sleep apnea symptoms and helps out their sleep apnea-associated health problems, but they hate the idea of being tethered to a machine all night, every night for the rest of their lives. They also hate some of the not so pleasant side effects that can come from CPAP use.

For every new (or seasoned) CPAP user, there is an adjustment period that accompanies almost every CPAP treatment program. Many patients feel frustration when they try to do all the right things and still cannot seem to make CPAP work for them. When you find out you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the choices are very limited - you can either live with the debilitating and dangerous condition or you jump in with both feet and try to find a way for you and your CPAP to get along.

Education is key with this process. Researching CPAP side effects and how to help them is a major component of taking control of your therapy and making it work for you. Visiting forums, reading blogs, looking up manufacturer tips, and seeking help from qualified sleep experts and respiratory therapists are all things you can do to find answers to your CPAP questions. Below is a list of common CPAP complaints and some tips to help you find a way around them:

1) "I'm too claustrophobic to wear my mask!" - This is a valid concern of many new users. The idea of strapping a mask to your face for night is not a relaxing concept.

Things to remember - CPAP masks have improved significantly in fit and design in the last 5 or so years. No longer bulky and heavy masks that weigh down your face or fall out of adjustment with every turn. Instead, newer masks are designed with light weight silicone plastics and adjust to the face naturally and without much additional weight. Swivel valves allow tubing to move as you move and comfort fit headgear reduces or eliminates pressure point pain. Also, check out Nasal Pillows CPAP Masks - these tiny guys incorporate some sort of nasal pillow that sits under or around the nose, touching your face much less than other masks.

2) "I have cotton mouth in the morning!" - Another very true and valid side effect of CPAP use. During normal respiration, your airway is fully capable of humidifying the air you breathe (as long as you are properly hydrated). When using CPAP, a much larger volume of air is being sent down your airway and your body's natural humidification response can't keep up.

Things to remember - When you choose your CPAP machine, you will be given the option of getting a humidifier that works with your CPAP to increase the humidity of the air being sent from your machine. Get a CPAP humidifier! It's an important part of therapy and can keep you from experiencing this unpleasant side effect at all. Generally, the humidifier fits together with your CPAP and doesn't add much bulk. Also, chronic dry mouth in the morning, even while using a humidifier, can signal a problem with your CPAP mask. If you are using a nasal only mask, you should check and see if you are mouth-breathing at night, effectively bypassing your CPAP treatment and causing major dry mouth. People who experience mouth-breathing regularly should consider a full face mask.

3) "There's so much pressure coming into my throat, I feel like I can't exhale!" - CPAP is in some ways very unnatural to our bodies, even though we need it to live. Especially in the beginning of therapy, many people feel like they can't breathe out against the pressure of the airflow. When you inhale the pressure is working with your body, but when you exhale it's working against it.

Things to remember - This complaint can resolve itself in time. For mild cases, this problem usually dissolves as you and your body get used to therapy. For more severe cases or cases that don't resolve with time, there are options on CPAP machines to make therapy more comfortable. C-FLEX, a popular component of Respironics machines, actually slightly lowers pressure when you exhale and rises back to pressure when you inhale, giving your body a break when you are inhaling.

4) "My CPAP mask gives me acne/sores/red spots etc" - This is an unsightly and embarrassing side effect to CPAP use. Many people complain of sores or contact acne from the areas that their masks touch their faces.

Things to remember - Two things are key here - 1) a good mask fit that is not pulled too tightly and provides some sort of cushion and 2) mask cleanliness. Proper mask fit is the single most important component of CPAP therapy over which you have control. If the mask you got with your CPAP doesn't work for you, try another one! No one mask works perfectly for everyone. And fitting your mask choice is sometimes a counterintuitive process, as many people assume they need to tighten the mask very tightly to keep it from slipping off during the night. This is not true and will cause pain and problems! Most masks are designed to inflate or mold to your face and do not need to be tightened down to the point that it causes sores or pressure point pain.

5) "I have horrible gas in the morning!" - This complaint is not a fun one. And unfortunately it affects most users at one time or another. Aerophagia is defined as the condition in which a person swallows too much air into the stomach. Aerophagia can cause bloating and discomfort, and can result in excessive burping, and can be side effect of the excess air you are taking in every night when using your machine. There is much debate on the best way to treat aerophagia and many people have different tricks they use.

Things to remember - Luckily this side effect also sometimes gets better with time and adjustment to your CPAP. If your gas problem is not improving try changing positions of your head at night so it's not tilted forward at all. Some CPAP or contoured pillows will help with this. You can also avoid foods or beverages a few hours before bedtime. If it continues or gets worse, talk to your doctor or sleep professional about trying a machine with exhalation relief, or in severe cases, a Bi-level machine.