Image: CPAP machine side effects

Living with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be challenging. But having to struggle with a CPAP machine that’s supposed to cure your condition is another story.

Luckily for you, there are simple ways you can try to avoid the most common side effects of using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. With the right amount of patience and open communication with your healthcare provider, seeking relief from these side effects is possible.

In this article, we will discuss the following:

  1. The most common CPAP side effects
  2. Ways on how to prevent them
  3. Benefiting from your CPAP therapy

CPAP Machine Side Effects

CPAP therapy may be the gold standard in treatment for OSA, but this doesn’t mean that risks or side effects are not present in this treatment option.

In fact:

Very recently, medical equipment manufacturer Philips┬árecalled certain CPAP products due to potential health risks associated with the devices’ sound abatement foam.

This recall eventually gave rise to CPAP lawsuits alleging that the sound foam may break down and can potentially cause respiratory problems, lung injuries, and even cancer in patients who may inhale or ingest the chemical.

On the contrary, it is usually possible to resolve some of the most common CPAP side effects because they are generally mild. Moreover, by getting yourself informed about what these common side effects are, you are also looking for ways on how to possibly address them. Ultimately, you are headed on the way to getting a good night’s sleep.

Here are the most common CPAP machine side effects — along with some ways on how you can prevent them.

1. Swallowed Air

Also known as aerophagia — which literally means air swallowing — this side effect is common in people who use a CPAP machine for the treatment of sleep apnea. CPAP-related aerophagia occurs when air from the device that’s meant to be drawn into the lungs enters the esophagus and goes into the belly instead.

As a result, it causes:

  • bloating
  • gas pains
  • excessive belching
  • unwanted gas causing burping and farting

Needless to say, you can have these problems if the excess air from your CPAP mask goes where it’s not wanted. But there are ways to reduce CPAP gas depending on what the underlying cause is.

How to prevent it:

  • Adjust your sleeping position – As simple as it may be, your sleeping position is an essential factor to consider when trying to avoid swallowing air from your CPAP device.

Try sleeping at an incline with the support of an adjustable bed base. This may help prevent your esophagus from easily allowing entry of air into the stomach.

  • Get your CPAP device adjusted to a lower air pressure level – When adjusting CPAP pressure settings, it is important to seek the help of your sleep specialist. Your doctor may perform a new CPAP titration study to determine the right level of pressure for you.

2. Nasal Congestion

A CPAP mask that leaks air can allow dry, pressurized air to escape, drying out and clogging your nasal passages. This can cause the sensation of having a stuffy or runny nose as well as irritation, inflammation, and difficulty breathing.

How to prevent it:

  • Use a properly fitting CPAP mask – CPAP masks can come in different forms. They can be nasal masks, full-face masks, or nasal pillows — and one size of the mask does not fit all. Therefore, you might want to work with your sleep doctor to ensure that you have the proper mask which will not allow moisture to escape from it.
  • Consider using a CPAP humidifier – Humidification helps reduce moisture in the nasal airways, which contributes to dry mouth, dry throat, and nasal congestion. Using a humidifier can improve overall comfort as it soothes irritation.

Further, research shows that the use of heated humidification results in increased compliance to CPAP therapy. This is mainly because of the reduction in irritation and feeling more comfortable and refreshed after waking up.

3. Dry Mouth

If you’ve ever had a dry mouth or dry throat upon taking your CPAP mask off in the morning, you are not alone. Sleep apnea patients commonly experience this side effect while on CPAP therapy.

Just like with nasal congestion, breathing in dry and pressurized air can also cause a dry mouth. Having a dry mouth can also result in various side effects, including:

  • coughing
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • bad breath
  • difficulty eating or talking

Although more common in patients who use a full-face mask, it can also happen if you have a nasal pillow or nasal mask and your jaw drops while you’re asleep. This allows the CPAP pressure to escape through your mouth while exhaling.

How to prevent it:

  • Try a CPAP chin strap – A CPAP chin strap is a piece of headgear that gently supports your jaw and keeps your mouth closed while sleeping, preventing mouth breathing. This is best for people who use a nasal pillow mask or nasal mask.
  • Use a humidifier – When affected by dry mouth, another attachment to your CPAP device you may want to consider is a humidifier. Humidification can help sleep apnea patients through the addition of moisture that will soften their airflow. A humidifier is also useful no matter what type of mask you are using.

4. Difficulty Exhaling

Due to a CPAP machine blowing air at constant pressure, some patients may feel like they’re suffocating as they find it hard to breathe against the pressure. This problem is most likely related to your treatment pressures and settings.

How to prevent it:

  • Try your CPAP’s exhalation relief – Most CPAP machines have a design that allows for exhalation relief. On your device, this can be called EPR, c-flex, a-flex, smartflex, etc. It decreases fixed pressure when you exhale.
  • Consult your doctor about switching to an Auto CPAP machine – One advantage of an Auto CPAP machine is that it provides varying ranges of pressure that automatically adjusts according to your breathing pattern, giving you the right pressure that you need every night.
  • Adjust your pressure settings – If the problem persists and you still find it difficult to breathe against the pressure, talk to your doctor about making adjustments to your pressure settings. Never try to change pressure settings on your own.

5. Skin Irritations

A CPAP mask that fits snug against your face and is worn repeatedly every night can easily collect sweat, dirt, skin oils, and dead skin cells that can cause skin irritations, acne, rash, or sores.

How to prevent it:

  • Keep your CPAP mask clean – Make it a habit to clean your mask with mild soap and warm water to prevent any bacteria buildup. If you have a humidifier, clean it daily with your mask.
  • Try using a mask liner – Mask liners sit between your face and your mask cushion. It protects your face and mask from skin oils and sweat and can also help reduce mask leaks.

6. Claustrophobia

Wearing a CPAP device is something patients struggle with at first. With that said, new patients who are in the early stages of their CPAP treatment may feel claustrophobic at first. This is especially true in the case of patients who require a full-face mask.

And although in general, this problem may resolve over time, it can be worse for claustrophobic patients who often have a fear of suffocation.

How to prevent it:

  • Take it one step at a time – The adjustment period to getting used to your CPAP machine is so important. As such, you may want to introduce the device to yourself gradually by using it first while you’re awake or while you’re reading a book in bed.
  • Switch to a different mask – Another option for you is to look for a mask that covers a smaller area of the face and offers a wider field of vision. You may want to consider a nasal pillow mask or nasal mask.

These possible solutions may be applicable for patients who experience feelings of claustrophobia at first. But people diagnosed with claustrophobia might have it worse.

If you have claustrophobia and you are planning to start with your CPAP therapy, make sure to talk to your doctor first.

7. Potential Risk of Infection

The risk of contracting infections such as sinus infections and pneumonia can potentially occur from using an unclean CPAP machine.

Aside from these infections, using dirty CPAP equipment may also lead to:

  • bronchitis
  • respiratory infections
  • pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs)
  • allergic reactions (coughing, sneezing, and runny nose)

Luckily, you can reduce your chances of being at risk for these conditions by observing simple cleaning habits.

How to prevent it:

  • Clean your CPAP supplies on a regular basis – Observe proper cleaning habits by using soap and warm water in cleaning the machine at least once a week.
  • Do not let water remain in your CPAP equipment for longer periods of time – Condensation can encourage the growth of bacteria when left too long. Consider using a heated humidifier and heated tubing to reduce condensation.
  • Replace your supplies as needed – Replace filters and mask cushions as recommended. Masks should be replaced at least every three months.

Benefiting from Your CPAP Therapy

It is often easy to address the more common side effects of CPAP. However, they can also easily be a reason for non-compliance or discontinuation of treatment in some patients. But these frustrations can esily be resolved with the right amount of patience and open communication with your doctor. Therefore, it’s still more important to stick to your treatment.

After all, CPAP treatment may prevent some serious consequences of obstructive sleep apnea. These include hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, among others.

It is important to work with a sleep specialist to ensure that you have a properly fitting mask and that the pressure settings of the device are right for you. If any problems occur, talk to your doctor and never try to adjust your CPAP pressure level on your own.

CPAP use may take some getting used to, but it is still considered the best form of treatment for sleep apnea. Therefore, sticking to it can help you avoid serious health risks and ultimately improve your quality of life.

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