Skip to content

How You Can Troubleshoot the Most Common CPAP Problems

While a CPAP device is essential for mitigating the effects of sleep apnea, using one of these machines isn’t always a stress-free process. Whether you are struggling to get used to wearing a CPAP mask at night or you are experiencing problems with your equipment, there are a few noteworthy issues that can keep you from getting the quality treatment — and sleep — that you need.

The good news is that while you may initially struggle to remain fully compliant with your CPAP treatment schedule, most people are able to adjust to their new sleep routine after a short period of time. By taking action to address common roadblocks to your treatment, you will be able to get the best results possible from your CPAP therapy.

The following are some of the most common issues experienced by new CPAP users, as well as what you can do to overcome them so you can enjoy a better night’s sleep.

1. Mask Leaks

A mask that leaks or doesn’t seal properly will keep you from receiving adequate air flow during the night. The leaking air can also irritate your eyes and face. There are several mask-related issues that could contribute to this problem.

Tightening the mask so that it provides a snug fit should always be your first step. You want the mask to fit tightly, but comfortably against your face so that it forms an airtight seal against your skin. Some patients also find that using an additional mask liner can help maintain this seal, while also keeping the mask free of facial oils and other contaminants.

Be mindful of your sleep position. For example, the bulky size of a full face mask makes it ill-suited for those who sleep on their stomach. People who roll around a lot in their sleep could knock smaller nasal pillows loose, disrupting their treatment.

Recurring mask leaks that aren’t resolved after several adjustments could mean that you have the wrong size mask. While many CPAP masks offer somewhat flexible sizing, you should follow manufacturer fitting guidelines to ensure that you get the right fit for your face. Today, there are even masks specifically designed for female face shapes, such as the ResMed Mirage FX For Her Nasal Mask With Headgear.

2. Trouble Adapting to Forced Air Flow

CPAP machines provide a steady flow of air pressure throughout the night. While this is essential for quality treatment, many new users find this air flow to be quite uncomfortable, which can make it hard to fall asleep.

Thankfully, there are several potential solutions. CPAP machines like the ResMed Airsense S10 CPAP Machine use a ramping feature to gradually increase the air pressure when you go to bed. These systems start with a low pressure and gradually work up to your prescribed pressure level by the time you fall asleep.

Other patients benefit from switching to a BiPAP machine like the Philips Respironics DreamStation BiPAP Pro Machine DSX600T11. BiPAP machines are designed to deliver the prescribed air pressure during inhalation, then reduce the air flow when you exhale for more comfortable breathing. Some machines automatically adjust pressure delivery throughout the night based on your breathing patterns for even greater comfort.

3. Feelings of Claustrophobia

Some people feel claustrophobic when they start using CPAP therapy, which can be enough to make them want to stop treatment entirely. These feelings of anxiety are normal, and they can be overcome.

One solution is to use a smaller nasal pillow or nasal mask instead of a full face mask. Because these smaller masks don’t obscure the field of vision like a full face mask, they don’t evoke the same sensation of being trapped or “boxed in.” Utilizing your CPAP machine’s ramp feature can also reduce the feeling of pressure when you first put on the mask, which can sometimes contribute to feelings of claustrophobia.

Some patients may simply need to get used to wearing the mask. Many practitioners recommend practicing holding the mask up to your face during the day. Start without straps, then, when you are feeling more comfortable, practice wearing the mask with a normal fit using straps.

Practicing relaxation exercises before putting on your mask can also help minimize feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia. Slow breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are great ways to put your mind at ease so you can fall asleep faster.

4. Dry Mouth or Nose

A continuous flow of dry air can quickly dry out your mouth, nose, and throat. This can increase your risk for sore throats and nosebleeds, while also causing you to feel dehydrated in the morning.

The best way to counteract this problem is to use a humidifier with your device. Many modern CPAP devices come with an integrated humidifier or an easy to use humidifier attachment. By adjusting humidity settings according to your needs, your device will supply you with warm, moist air throughout the night.

Not only will this prevent dryness, it also makes the treatment more comfortable, making it easier to adapt to your therapy. Be sure to use distilled CPAP water to fill your humidifier to improve the longevity of the humidifier chamber.

People who breathe through their mouth are especially likely to experience symptoms of dry mouth after starting CPAP treatment. Such individuals should always use a full face mask to ensure that they get the most effective therapy.

5. Skin Irritation

While maintaining an airtight seal for your CPAP mask is important, some users go a little too far in tightening their mask. When the mask is worn too tightly, it can cause skin irritation and even sores or rashes. Unfortunately, excessive loosening of the mask won’t make the issue go away either, as a leaky fit can also cause your skin to become dry and irritated.

For most CPAP users, finding the right mask fit — not too tight, and not too loose — will be essential for solving this problem. You should adjust both the straps and pads of your mask system so that you don’t feel any irritation, even if you roll around in your sleep.

Full face mask users may also benefit from using mask liners or special moisturizers for CPAP users. If skin irritation continues to be a problem, you may wish to consider switching to a nasal pillow or nasal mask, as these mask styles have less direct contact with your skin.

6. Moisture Buildup

While using a humidifier can counteract common issues like a dry nose or sore throat, it can also create an issue of its own: excess moisture buildup in your CPAP tubing. This occurs as warm air from the humidifier naturally cools off as it is sent through your CPAP hose. The cooling air causes condensation to form, which can result in some additional discomfort during the night, as well as increase the risk of mildew and other bacterial buildup inside your tubing.

The best way to counteract this issue is to use heated tubing, such as the Respironics DreamStation Heated Tubing. Heated tubing typically has multiple settings so that it works in conjunction with your heated humidifier. By using heated coils within the tubing itself, these hoses keep the air from cooling off so that condensation doesn’t even form in the first place.

Regardless of what type of tubing you use, you should also wash and sanitize it on a regular basis. This is especially important after you have been sick, as bacteria thrives in the warm, damp conditions found inside CPAP tubes. Following cleaning guidelines will prevent bacterial buildup and help you avoid recurring illnesses and respiratory infections.

7. Excessive Noise

Though modern CPAP machines are quieter than ever before, they still produce some noise as they draw in and release air. This sound can make it hard for you or your partner to fall asleep. You can alleviate this issue before you start treatment by looking for a quiet CPAP machine.

Both home and travel devices are increasingly being optimized for quiet operation. For example, the ResMed AirMini AutoSet Travel CPAP can operate as quietly as 25 dBA — somewhere between a whisper and the noise you’d expect in a quiet rural area. Many other machines are also available that operate softer than 30 dBa.

If your machine starts running louder than it has in the past, you should probably check its filters. CPAP filters need to be changed on a regular basis (sometimes once a month or more frequently), in accordance with manufacturer guidelines. A dirty, partially blocked filter will force the CPAP machine to work harder and increase noise levels.

Finally, be mindful of how your mask can affect noise levels during the night. Part of the noise caused by CPAP treatment comes from air venting from the mask. Adjusting the position of your mask and ensuring that it has a good seal will help minimize the noise caused by venting and leaks. Of course, you can always try wearing earplugs!

8.Removing the Mask in Your Sleep

It is surprisingly common for new CPAP users to remove their mask in the middle of the night — even unconsciously.

While this typically occurs because you are still getting used to wearing a CPAP mask in your sleep, for some people, this is an indicator of improper mask fit or air pressure. A mask that fits too tightly or leaks can cause breathing problems and discomfort, which will cause you to unconsciously take it off. You may need to work with your doctor to determine how to best adjust your mask or treatment settings for a more comfortable fit.

If you roll around during your sleep, the mask could come loose, which would increase the likelihood that you would want to remove it during the night. Wearing a full face mask or using a chin strap are good options for people who move around a lot during the night.

Ultimately, this is one issue that will require some patience and practice to be fully resolved. As you get used to wearing a mask, you will be less likely to take it off during your sleep. If this issue continues to be a concern, you could even set an alarm for the middle of the night so you can replace your mask if necessary.

9. Headaches

People who suffer from sleep apnea are often more likely to experience headaches and migraines due to excessive fatigue. However, some people seem to notice an increase in the number of headaches they experience after they begin CPAP therapy. There are several potential ways that your therapy could cause you to experience more headaches.

As with so many other CPAP-related problems, poor mask fit is a leading culprit behind these headaches. This is most typically caused by headgear straps that are too tight. The discomfort can lead to a headache or cause the mask to press uncomfortably against the bridge of the nose or other areas, resulting in facial pain. Adjust your mask so that it fits comfortably while still forming a tight seal.

Sinus problems can also contribute to headaches. These issues are more likely to occur among those who use nasal pillows, as these smaller masks can sometimes clog the sinuses. Using a heated humidifier or switching to a different mask style can help address this problem.

Finally, improper pressure settings can also contribute to headaches. Regardless of whether you think your machine’s pressure is too low or too high, you should consult with your doctor about adjusting your prescribed pressure. You should generally save this step for last, after you have tried the other methods for dealing with CPAP-related headaches.

10. Aerophagia

Aerophagia is a somewhat lesser-known side effect of CPAP treatment that can cause some users to experience painful bloating and gas. Aerophagia can also increase instances of acid reflux and heartburn. This condition occurs when CPAP users accidentally swallow air during the course of their nightly therapy, causing them to feel bloated in the morning.

Many users can address this problem by switching to a different mask type (such as nasal pillows), which decreases the likelihood of “swallowing” air. However, individuals who regularly breathe through their mouth during their sleep will likely be better served by having their doctor adjust their pressure settings or by switching to a BiPAP device.

BiPAP machines directly combat aerophagia by lowering pressure during exhalation, which reduces the likelihood of swallowing excess air. In fact, a study by the Sleep Research Society found that 71 percent of patients who experienced aerophagia had their symptoms resolved by switching to a BiPAP device.

Challenges Worth Overcoming

While the aforementioned issues can make it difficult for new users to adjust to CPAP therapy, adhering to your treatment plan is essential for your health. The long-term consequences of untreated sleep apnea are much more severe than simply being tired and grouchy all the time. Left unchecked, sleep apnea can contribute to serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The good news is that many CPAP machines use sleep tracker apps and other resources to help you identify issues that are keeping you from being fully compliant with your treatment plan. By using this information and working with your doctor, you will be better able to identify issues affecting your treatment and take appropriate actions to resolve them.

Those who use their CPAP machine properly are more well rested, ensuring that they are more alert during the day and better able to concentrate on work and other important tasks. They enjoy greater emotional stability, which can improve relationships. Overcoming sleep apnea can even reduce your risk of congestive heart failure.

Needless to say, the benefits far outweigh any potential issues you might encounter when you first begin CPAP therapy. Don’t lose patience with yourself or your equipment. Work through these issues with the help of your doctor so you can enjoy higher quality sleep and better long-term health outcomes.

Bonus: What About Insurance and CPAP Treatment?

Though not an issue directly related to the treatment itself, many who find themselves in need of CPAP therapy discover that the equipment they need isn’t covered by their insurance policy. Alternatively, they may struggle to find CPAP providers that accept their insurance.

This can understandably cause you to feel stressed out as you try to start treatment, especially when getting all the equipment you need can cost several hundred dollars.

If you don’t have insurance or have a high insurance deductible, No Insurance Medical Supplies can help you get the equipment you need. We offer significant discounts on many new CPAP machines, as well as used and refurbished equipment.

If you are still worried about the costs associated with starting your CPAP therapy, we also have available financing to break your purchase up into affordable monthly payments, as well as rental options.

You shouldn’t let a lack of insurance coverage keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. By ordering your equipment through No Insurance Medical Supplies, you will get the care you need at a price you can afford.


Leave a comment