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What is the Best Sleep Apnea Mask?

Published February 18th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Erik Rivera

Sleep Apnea 101 | Symptoms | Diagnosis | CPAP Machines | Treatments

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be wondering what the best sleep apnea mask is for you and your positive airway pressure machine. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes your breathing to stop and start during sleep which can lead to a number of health problems, including fatigue, headaches, and potentially heart attacks. There are many different types of sleep apnea masks available on the market today so it is important you pick the best one for you. In this article, we will discuss the four best types of CPAP masks and other treatments for sleep apnea to help you get better quality sleep.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people in the United States. It occurs when the airway becomes blocked and prevents enough air from getting to the lungs. This can lead to pauses in breathing, called apneas, or shallow breaths which can lead to a number of health problems and not getting restorative sleep. Sleep apnea can affect anyone but is more common in people who are older, are men, overweight, have a family history of sleep apnea, or smoke among other risk factors. However, both men and women may suffer from it at any age.

There are three types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and mixed sleep apnea (MSA). Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, accounting for most cases. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep, usually due to throat muscles relaxing too much. Central sleep apnea is caused by problems with your brain sending signals that control your muscles for breathing, while mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two.

Sleep Apnea mask

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The main symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). However, there are a number of other symptoms that can occur such as morning headaches due to lack of oxygen while sleeping, dry mouth or throat, trouble concentrating, mood changes like irritability or depression, and problems with sexual function. If you have sleep apnea you often have trouble staying asleep, which is called insomnia, because of all the disruptions. You also will likely wake up gasping for air or choking after apnea events too.

How do doctors diagnose sleep apnea?

Doctors use a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. A sleep study, also called a polysomnography (PSG), is an overnight test that monitors your brain waves, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and breathing and is the most accurate way to diagnose sleep apnea. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea or are at high risk for it, your doctor may recommend a sleep study which will take place at sleep centers or sleep labs and are monitored by sleep specialists.

At-home sleep tests are also used to diagnose sleep apnea. These are tests that you can do in your own home to check for sleep apnea. They usually involve wearing some devices that monitor your breathing, heart rate, and movement during sleep. Once the data is collected, a sleep specialist will analyze the results. It should be noted that these tests are not as comprehensive or accurate as a polysomnography, but they are convenient as they can be conducted from your own home.

What is a CPAP machine?

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure and is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine is a device that blows pressurized air into your throat while you sleep to keep the airway open and prevent sleep apnea events. The CPAP mask is attached to the machine and worn while you sleep over your nose and mouth, or just over your nose if you have a nasal pillow. This air pressure can be uncomfortable for some people but there are different CPAP mask styles available that may help ease discomfort and provide you with a comfortable mask.

What are the different types of CPAP masks?

There are four common types of mask designs: nasal pillow masks, nasal masks, hybrid masks, and full-face masks. Please see below for an in-depth look at the individual mask styles and to determine which mask fit may be best for you.

Nasal pillows

Nasal pillows masks have small cushions that fit into your nose and are held in place by a strap over your head similar to headgear straps. They are the smallest and lightest type of sleep apnea mask and can be easier to sleep in than other types. It is usually the best mask for beards and facial hair, people who become claustrophobic with a larger size mask, or if you wear glasses and want to read or watch TV while in bed due to the unobstructed field of vision. However, if you have nasal obstructions or frequent congestion from allergies, this type of mask may not work as well for your sleep apnea treatment.

Nasal masks

The nasal CPAP mask is shaped like a triangle that covers the nose and has straps that fit around your face. They are smaller than full-face masks and can be easier to sleep with for some people. Some have a mask cushion that seals around the base of the nose, which is better for mouth breathers. The nasal mask has more straps than a nasal pillow mask and is good for people who are active sleepers that may move around while sleeping or whose doctors prescribe a high air pressure setting for their machine.

Hybrid masks

A hybrid mask covers both the nose and mouth, but unlike full-face masks (described below) they only have one cushion that covers the nose. They are more compact than full-face masks but still provide a larger surface area for sleep apnea treatment. These types of sleep apnea masks are great for people who breathe through their mouths and for people who would like to wear glasses to read or watch TV while in bed.

Full-face masks

Also called oronasal masks, the full-face sleep apnea masks cover the entire face and have straps that go over the head. They are the largest and heaviest sleep apnea mask type. Full-face masks provide the most surface area for sleep apnea treatment and they are preferred by sleep specialists for people who sleep with their mouths open or have nasal congestion. These masks can be uncomfortable if you wear glasses, have facial hair that may break the mask seal, or need to sleep on your side.

What other treatments are available besides CPAP machines?

CPAP machines are not the only treatment option if you have sleep apnea. Other sleep apnea treatment options include dental appliances, also called oral appliances or oral devices, which move the lower jaw forward during sleep so the airway is less likely to collapse. If your sleep apnea is mild to moderate, your doctor may also suggest sleep position therapy to try to open the airway which involves sleeping in different positions in an attempt to open up your upper airway. Surgery may also be an option if sleep apnea is caused by a physical obstruction in the airway with the most popular being UPPP or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty which removes excess soft tissue from the back of the throat. Implantable devices are also available and are surgically placed in the airway to keep it open by receiving signals from a machine implanted in your chest. If sleep apnea is caused by obesity, losing weight may be the best treatment option.

There are also other positive airway pressure machines that help treat sleep apnea too. A BiPAP or bilevel positive airway pressure machine can also be used and instead of having one constant pressure like a CPAP machine, a BiPAP machine has two for breathing in and breathing out. An APAP or automatic positive airway pressure machine may also be prescribed by a doctor which adjusts the air pressure to how hard you are breathing.

Summary

There are different types of sleep apnea masks available and the best sleep apnea mask options for you depend on a number of factors including your sleep study results, how severe sleep apnea is, and personal preference for comfort. The most important thing to do if you suspect sleep apnea or have been previously diagnosed with sleep apnea is to go over all of your options with your sleep specialist. A wide range of sleep apnea treatment options are available to you and include CPAP machines, dental appliances, altering your sleeping position, surgery, and other machines that use positive airway pressure therapy. Lastly, there are treatments available for sleep apnea such as weight loss if obesity is the cause and sleep positional therapy that doesn't involve devices or surgery. If you have any other questions please talk to your sleep specialist or health care provider about the most effective therapy for you.

References and Sources:

Mayo Clinic 

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