Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is a common sleep disorder where individuals have brief pauses in breathing due to a blockage of the airway. This blockage can be caused by a large tongue that has relaxed and covering the airway, or the muscles in the back of the throat that have relaxed and are also covering the airway.
The mainstay of treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure, or a CPAP, machine. This machine blows air into the back of your throat to prevent the muscles from collapsing and keeping your airway open. It consists of a mask that goes over your nose and your mouth that is attached by a hose to a machine that delivers this air.
CPAP machines are very important because OSA can cause a host of health problems including obesity, hypertension, and reduced sleep. Those with OSA can develop excessive daytime sleepiness and the risk of developing it is increased by being overweight, having a large neck circumference, smoking, and being male, to name a few.
Although CPAPs are great, they often come up with some uncomfortable side effects. A common side effect is dry mouth. Continue reading to find out how to avoid this side effect.
How CPAP Machines Cause Dry Mouth
Those who use CPAPs may develop dry mouth for one of several reasons. One cause is mouth breathing. Those with CPAP machines over the nose can lead to feelings of a blockage of the nose which can lead to some breathing through their mouths while they sleep. This can dry it out.
Another way is a poorly fitting mask. If the CPAP is too loose or too tight than that can contribute to dry mouth. This also can reduce the effectiveness of the treatment because some of the air is escaping or not going where it is supposed to. It must be concentrated into the nasal passage to keep that airway open.
A third reason is a decreased flow of saliva. Research suggests that high pressure in the mouth from the CPAP can block the flow of saliva. Saliva is required for keeping the mouth moist, fighting off infections and cavities, and helping with eating and digestion. This process can be interrupted by constantly having air being blown throughout the mouth.
Other Causes of Dry Mouth
Although the CPAP is a common culprit when it comes to causing dry mouth, there may be other causes that are outside of the CPAP that may contribute to the discomfort of the CPAP.
There are certain medications where dry mouth is a common side effect. Antihistamines, decongestants, and other medications may cause a decrease in saliva production. Also, those using cannabidiol, or CBD, can also experience dry mouth.
Dehydration happens when you do not have enough fluid. This can be caused by not taking in enough, or by losing too much by vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination or sweating.
Older individuals may also experience dry mouth because the sense of thirst can diminish as people age, which can lead them to drink less and become dehydrated.
Salivary glands are the parts of your body that control the saliva production, and they are in and around your mouth. Certain diseases may damage or unregulate them so they do not produce urine as they are supposed to. Infections, cancer treatment and diseases like Sjogren's syndrome can cause dry mouth.
Last, but certainly not least, other causes include diabetes, anxiety, HIV infection, and the use of tobacco, marijuana and methamphetamines.
Preventing CPAP Dry Mouth
Ensure the CPAP Airflow is Moist
One way that you can prevent dry mouth is by keeping the CPAP moist by using a humidifier. Humidification can also help in case your nose gets dry as well, which is also a common side effect. There are different methods for humidification, and depend on personal preference and the type of CPAP machine. Inline heat moisture exchange humidifiers warm the circulating air from the CPAP and then add moisture
Built-in humidifiers come with many CPAP machines and have adjustable temperature settings.
Cold passover humidifiers moisten air as it passes over room temperature water without heating.
Heated tubing is included in some CPAP machines to increase the moisture level and temperature of the pumped air which can help with the dry mouth.
Finally, room humidifiers help dry the air in the environment that can contribute to a dry mouth. A separate humidifier can moisten the air and provide additional relief.
Keep the Mouth Closed
One cause of dry mouth is sleeping with the mouth open because the air being pushed up the nose. This can be overcome with a chin strap or an adhesive strip that can reduce mouth breathing while you sleep. Chin straps encircle the head and cradle the chin to keep it closed. By using a chin strap, more CPAP users are more likely to continue using a CPAP during sleep. Disposable adhesive strips applied tover the mouth encourage sleeping with the mouth closed.
Relieve Nasal Congestion
Nasal congestion can lead to mouth breathing, especially in children who have OSA. You can relieve this congestion prior to using the CPAP using things like salt water nasal sprays or medications. Beware,though, decongestants may worsen the dry mouth, so ensure you are using a medication that does not have that as a side effect, or is less severe than others.
Find the Best CPAP Mask
A CPAP mask that fits poorly can lead to dry mouth and less effective treatment. When you are first getting set up with a CPAP, they often have you try on a mask to ensure that it properly fits. However, once problems begin to arise, it's common for people to switch masks at home. If you need to switch masks, please consult your physician to ensure that you are making a proper switch.
There are various styles and sizes of CPAP masks that can address certain cerns. For dry mouths, a mask that covers both the nose and mouth can help reduce dryness, especially if chin straps are not effective.
If you, or someone you know has sleep apnea, and/or a CPAP and need additional guidance, please click the orange button below for a free online sleep test that will put you in contact with one of our sleep health professionals.