Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that affects many people. It is characterized by many pauses in breathing throughout the night that cause your body to wake up to begin breathing again. These cessations are caused by a blockage to your airway, most likely by a large tongue that has slid to the back of your mouth, or by the relaxation of the muscles in the back of your throat.
This narrowing of space makes it hard for you to breathe and can lead to snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, and feeling like you did not get enough rest. OSA can also lead to hypertension, obesity, heart disease, and many other diseases. It is more common in men, those with larger neck circumferences, overweight/obese individuals, and those who smoke.
The current standard treatment for OSA is a continuous positive airway pressure, or a CPAP machine. It blows air to stop the muscles in the back of your throat from collapsing so that way you continue breathing throughout the night. Even though it can provide immense relief, it still comes with its fair share of side effects. Continue reading to learn about what to expect with a CPAP.
Aerophagia is a term for when someone swallows too much air. THis can lead to feelings of abdominal discomfort, flatulence and belching because all of this air goes to your gastrointestinal system. To reduce aerophagia, it may be beneficial to switch to an automatic positive airway pressure, or an APAP. CPAP continues to use the same level of air pressure, but APAP alternates pressure levels based on the sleeper's breathing and snoring.
Discomfort and Skin Irritation
The CPAP mask can also be uncomfortable. Improperly fitting masks can create irritation of the skin that can lead to sores, rashes, and pressure ulcers on the cheeks and nose and any other points of contact that cause friction and irritation. The CPAP machine can also interfere with certain hairstyles or leaves imprints on the face, which can be extremely embarrassing.
Dermatitis is another concern of CPAP, which is a condition of inflamed skin after coming into contact with objects that your body has a sensitivity or allergy to. Materials such as silicone can be the cause of these sensitivity reactions and can lead to common symptoms of redness and itching. There may even be blistering on the skin.
Claustrophobia is the fear of being in an enclosed space. It is a very common side effect of a CPAP because the mask can create a very enclosed feeling since it covers the nose and mouth. Those who experience claustrophobia have found that nasal pillows inserted into the nostrils work better than a nasal mask that covers the nose or a full-face mask that covers both nose and the mouth.
Another strategy is to wear the mask for short periods of time during restful activities, like reading or watching TV. By wearing the mask during the day, you can interrupt the fearful thoughts in your mind and make it more comfortable and tolderable throughout the night.
People who use CPAPs may experience upper respiratory infections or sinus infections. There are bacteria that live in your nose and mouth, and when they get into the mask and mix with allergens in the air, or travel to places they don't normally live, then they can cause infections. If your machine is not properly and regularly cleaned, then you increase your risk for experiencing some of these side effects.
Nasal Congestion and Dry Nose
Runny nose and dry nose can both occur with CPAP use. Those who use CPAP may experience dry nose from the constant blowing of air being forced into the nose. This can lead to nosebleeds and crusting. Dry noses with CPAP use are even more common in climates with cold weather or low humidity. So those using CPAPs in Alaska may be more at risk for experiencing this side effect.
Dry Eyes and Dry Mouth
The nose is not the only thing that can get dry. The eyes and mouth can also get dry while using a CPAP because the mask leaks. This means that the mask doesn't fit properly and some of the air being blown out can flow upward and irritate the eyes. Dry mouth comes from mouth breathing, which happens when CPAP users cannot breathe through their nose while using the CPAP machine.
The best way to reduce the eye discomfort is to ensure that you have a properly fitted mask that covers your nose and does not allow air to leak out. As for mouth breathing, practicing wearing the mask and breathing through your nose during the day can build up tolerance and teach your body how to breathe through your nose throughout the night with the mask on.
Adjusting the Pressure to Avoid Side Effects
Many of the above side effects have great tips such as alternatives, properly fitting masks, and regular cleaning. One other tip that may help reduce some of the issues associated with CPAP use is to adjust the pressure. The appropriate pressure is normally determined during the sleep study that led to the diagnosis of sleep apnea. However, these levels may need to be adjusted in the first few weeks of use as you are getting adjusted.
Also, if certain attributes about you change, such as lifestyle or body composition, then the pressure may also need to be adjusted. This changes include weight fluctuations and changes in nicotine or alcohol use.
A pressure ramp may even be a good option as well. This involves a slow inclination in the CPAP pressure, instead of starting at max power from the very beginning. It is a feature on some CPAP machines that increase pressure over a specific period of time set by a healthcare provider. This allows CPAP users to fall asleep before feeling the full pressure from the machine.
If you or someone you know is struggling with OSA and/or their CPAP, please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and get in contact with one of our sleep health professionals as soon as possible.