What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder characterized by frequent and intermittent pauses in breathing while the patient is asleep. Such cessations could recur up to 400 times in a single night. Each pause could last for 10 seconds or more. While the patient may not wake up during such breathing pauses, but the sleep is extremely disturbed leaving the patient tired and fatigued the next day.
Sleep apnea is a very serious disorder that is closely associated with a host of other ailments like hypertension, ischemic heart disease and stroke.
Sleep apnea and CPAP therapy
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association the CPAP device is perhaps the most common therapy option for the treatment of this grilling sleep disorder. The medical device consists of the machine, tubes, and fan and of course the CPAP mask. Essentially the device aims to pump in compressed air via the tubes and the mask to the upper respiratory tract, to ‘open it up’ and free the air passage of any obstruction.
However you need to keep in mind that CPAP therapy is not curative, but it does bring sustainable relief to sleep apnea patients, by clearing the air passage and allowing normal breathing during sleep.
Sleep apnea and CPAP masks
Of all the components of the CPAP device, the mask perhaps plays the most important role in providing relief to the sleep apnea patient. The tube connects the CPAP machine to the mask that is worn over the nose, mouth, or both, depending on individual preference. The machine generates pressurized air, again according to individual needs, which is passed on to the mask via the tube. Therefore, the mask acts as an important intermediary between the machine and the patient, transporting the required amount of compressed air to the air passage to clear it of any obstruction.
What is a CPAP mask and why is it so important?
Normally made from silicone plastic a CPAP mask can be worn to cover the nose, mouth or both. It is kept secure in place by means of a typical head gear or straps. These strapping mechanisms ensure that the masks do not slip off while the patient is asleep and the mask fits snugly around the nose or mouth.
You can appreciate the importance of CPAP masks if you understand the need and criticality of pumping in a pre-determined amount of compressed air into the respiratory tract to provide relief to the sleep apnea patient. Any leak, however tiny it may be in the mask, or any discomfort experienced by the user can completely jeopardize the efficacy of the device as well as the CPAP therapy.
However when the CPAP mask is a snug-fit and does not cause any discomfort to the patient, it transmits the ideal amount of air pressure required to ‘open up’ the blocked air passage and prevent any collapse of throat muscles. This allows the patient to breathe normally and sleep better.
CPAP masks: as varied as the users themselves
No two sleep apnea patients are same when it concerns wearing the CPAP mask. People have different apnea conditions, different facial contours and sleeping postures and different comfort levels. Therefore what is best for one may not always be the most suitable for another.
There are many styles, designs and types of CPAP masks, each serving a specific need of the user. Of all the varieties of masks available the face mask is most commonly used. This type of mask covers most of the facial area from the bridge of the nose up to the end of the chin. To prevent it from slipping away, the face mask has extra straps for support.
All the CPAP masks that you would read about in this site carry their own advantages and disadvantages. Most of the negative aspects can be overcome with proper fitting, and using the right kind of straps, head gear, etc. At the end of the day, you have to ensure that the masks do not allow air leak, allows comfortable breathing and permits you to sleep any which way you like.
While buying a CPAP mask, an important deciding factor is the way you breathe. For example, a full face mask may be a major advantage for mouth breathers but its biggest drawback is that it allows you to sleep only on your back.
How to choose the best mask for you?
The term ‘best’ is relative and what is best for your best friend may not be suitable for you. The first guidelines of choosing a mask would normally come from your doctors’ recommendation followed by your preferred sleeping position and breathing pattern. It is a personal decision and the mask selection should only be done by the user.
If you are a first time mask user, try your first apnea mask, preferably in a lying down position. Try the mask with the air-pressure recommended by your doctor. This way you can actually experience better breathing and your personal comfort level. Remember, a CPAP mask should completely seal off the nose, mouth or both, depending on the type of mask you are using. The straps should neither be too tight nor too loose. If they are loose, they allow air leak and tight straps may result in the breakage of the seal.
One of the ways you can focus on the right CPAP mask is to know the various types of problems faced by users that compel them to discard the CPAP therapy altogether. If you can make sure that with the mask you choose, you are unlikely to face such problems, you are on the right track.
It is also worth noting that a CPAP mask, no matter how sturdy it is, should be cleaned regularly and changed every 4 to 5 months. It is also a fact that initially, you would need some patience to get accustomed to the use of apnea masks. Do not give up hope too early, because using the right CPAP mask the right way, could be your last and final hope to get relief from sleep apnea and get good sleep.