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Most Common CPAP Side Effects and How to Handle Them (2021 Updated)

Most Common CPAP Side Effects and How to Handle Them (2021 Updated)

CPAP is one of the main treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Although wearing CPAP may not be on your favorites list, it is vital to treat OSA. Untreated OSA can increase your risk of the following: 

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with memory
  • Weight gain

Easing CPAP Side Effects 

Even though you know CPAP is needed, you may experience some unwanted side effects. The good news is there are many things you can do to combat side effects and make using CPAP easier, so you can get a more restful sleep.

Below is more information on common side effects and what you can do to ease them.

Dry mouth/nose

Developing a dry mouth or nose is one of the most common side effects of CPAP. It usually occurs due to the airflow going into the mouth or nose from the mask. The increased airflow can dry the mucous membranes. Symptoms may include:

  • Burning
  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Irritation on the inside of the nose

What helps?

If you have a dry mouth or nose from CPAP, one of the best solutions is to use a humidifier. Adding some moisture to your CPAP may be enough to fix the problem. If using a humidifier does not fix the problem, consider turning it to a higher setting.

If you still deal with a dry mouth even after adding humidification, make sure you do not have a leak around your mask. If too much air is leaking out, the moisture created by the humidifier will also leak out. It may also help to use a saline nasal spray or a nose lubricant to help with dryness.


Lastly, make sure you are drinking enough fluids. Even mild dehydration can make a dry mouth worse. It may also help to use a saline nasal spray or a nose lubricant to help with dryness.

Morning Headaches

Morning headaches are an uncommon side effect of CPAP. In fact, untreated sleep apnea tends to cause headaches. But although a headache may not frequently develop with CPAP, it can occur.

In most cases, it may develop if your CPAP pressure is too high. A headache may also occur if your sinuses become too dry. Your nose can become dry from the air from CPAP. That dryness can irritate the mucous membranes, which causes them to produce more mucous, leading to congestion and, in turn, a headache. 

What helps?

If you routinely have headaches associated with CPAP, talk with your doctor. You may need to use a lower CPAP pressure. Using a humidifier may also help with headaches due to dryness and congestion. If using a humidifier does not fix the problem, consider turning it to a higher setting. It may also help to use a saline nasal spray or a nose lubricant to help with dryness.

Bloating and gas

Feeling bloated in the morning is common with CPAP. Bloating and gas usually occur if you swallow excess air from the CPAP.

The air delivered to your airway does not only go into your lungs. Some of it may go into your stomach. This may be more likely to happen if you use a full-face mask and sleep with your mouth party open. That’s because the excess air enters and is misdirected into the esophagus and down into the stomach.

Symptoms of bloating and gas may include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Burping
  • Flatulence

In most cases, after passing the gas within an hour or so of removing CPAP, bloating passes. But in other cases, the pain may become significant and occur on most days.

What helps?

It may not be possible to prevent swallowing air when using CPAP. But there are a few things you can try.

 For example, changing sleep position may help you swallow less air. Try different positions to see what works.

Also, using nasal pillows instead of a mask along with a chin strap to keep your mouth closed may prevent air from entering your mouth. Reducing the pressure on the CPAP may also be an option. Over-the-counter medications may also help reduce gas. But as with any type of medication, talk with your doctor first.

Claustrophobia and anxiety

Claustrophobia involves the fear of enclosed spaces. Although you are not in a small space using CPAP, the sensation of wearing something over your mouth and nose while you sleep can make some people feel closed in or confined.

Symptoms of claustrophobia include

  • Feeling a choking sensation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Shortness of breath

CPAP may also lead to anxiety. Some people may become anxious if they feel the mask is uncomfortable or too tight. An individual may feel the head strap will become tangled and become wrapped about the neck during sleep. Also, some people may become anxious if they feel they have a decreased vision line when wearing the mask.

Symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness

What helps?

To treat claustrophobia or anxiety, switching to a nasal mask may help you feel less confined. If you sleep with your mouth closed, using nasal pillows instead of a mask may be your best bet.

In some cases, exposure therapy helps people deal with claustrophobia. That involves being exposed to the fear a little at a time. It may help to adjust to your CPAP gradually. For example, try putting the mask on for a few minutes when you are not sleeping. Once you tolerate that, try to wear CPAP for a few hours each night. Eventually, work your way up to using it all night.

Taking steps to relax before bed may reduce tension and anxiety. If after switching masks, you still feel claustrophobic, talk with your doctor. There may be medications or other treatments that help.

Loud Noise

Additionally, if your mask has a leak, it will also be louder. A poorly fitted mask or even repositioning yourself in bed can move the mask out of place and cause a leak. 

What helps?

In most cases, the fix for a loud CPAP is easy. Drain any water in the tubing that may have accumulated from your humidifier. Also, wear a mask that fits well, so air does not leak around the sides. Check the mask strap and make sure it is secured. Over time the masks become worn out and may not seal as well. Replace your mask as recommended by your doctor. 

Skin marks/irritation or rashes

No one wants to go to work with CPAP strap marks on their face. The mask itself can also cause marks. Some people may also develop minor irritation and a rash. The more sensitive your skin is, the more likely you are to develop some skin irritation.

The irritation is usually due to the mask. A CPAP mask fits tightly around your face to prevent air from leaking out. Because of the fit and the fact that it is worn nightly, it can lead to a rash or pressure sores.

Bumps around your nose can also occur from a buildup of oil under the mask. This can develop from applying oils to your face or even your natural skin oil.

Symptoms of skin irritation can include:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Pimples
  • A rash

What helps?

Use a mask liner to protect your skin. Different types of mask liners are available.

Avoid wearing the mask too tight, which is more likely to leave marks. A barrier cream may also help. Also, be sure to wash your face before putting on your CPAP. Avoid using any oils on your face before bed. Additionally, clean your mask daily, which will help reduce oil buildup.

Sex Drive

Some people may feel self-conscious wearing a CPAP mask, which may lower their sex drive. But untreated sleep apnea is more likely to be a culprit, such it can lower libido.

What helps?

While CPAP may not be the sexiest thing you have ever seen, it does not have to ruin intimacy. Have an open conversation with your partner about how you feel.

Infections

An infection can develop from a dirty mask, tubing, or water. An infection can occur due to bacteria, fungus, or mold found on the CPAP tubing or the mask. Also, the water used for the humidifier can contain different organisms that may be potentially harmful.

One of the most significant risks for developing an infection is allowing excess moisture to sit in the humidifier or tubing. That moisture can promote the growth of fungus or mold, which if inhaled into the lungs through CPAP, can make you sick.

An infection can become serious if not treated. Watch for signs of an infection, including:

  • Increased mucous
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

What helps?

Make sure you are cleaning your CPAP mask frequently. Disinfectant wipes/cleaning machines made specifically for CPAP masks are a good option.

Replace your mask, tubing, and filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Your filter can help decrease the spread of bacteria.


Also, always use distilled or sterile water and not tap water in your humidifier. Tap water can have bacteria in it, which can potentially lead to a lung infection. It is also helpful to empty any unused water daily and replace it with fresh water. Also, do not allow moisture to remain in the CPAP machine.

Lastly, do not share equipment.

Shortness of Breath/ Lung Discomfort 

Some people may feel slight lung discomfort when first using CPAP. This may occur from cold, dry air inhaled from the CPAP mask. But you should not feel any pain when using the machine.

Also, CPAP should not cause shortness of breath. But if it does occur, it is just the sensation of not getting enough air in. CPAP does not reduce the amount of air you inhale. Shortness of breath may also develop if you feel anxious about using CPAP.

What helps?

The best way to decrease lung discomfort is to use a heated humidifier, which will likely decrease Irritation. If you feel short of breath when you first use CPAP, switching the type of mask you use may help.

Different types of masks may work better for different people. Try a nasal mask, which may feel less constricting. Give it a few weeks to adjust to using the machine. If you still feel short of breath, talk with your doctor. You may need a higher pressure setting to meet your needs.

Insomnia

When someone first starts using CPAP, it may make it harder for them to sleep. It can be a little bit of an adjustment to wear something on your face while you sleep. Also, issues such as a poorly fitted mask may create an annoying leak. 

What helps? 

As you adjust to CPAP and learn ways to deal with side effects, your insomnia should decrease. Keep in mind and untreated sleep apnea also causes poor sleep. So, giving yourself a little time to adjust to the CPAP is worth it.

Many of the side effects of CPAP have quick fixes. Also, some side effects may go away after you adjust to using the machine. Remember, finding ways to combat side effects is worth the benefits of treating sleep apnea.

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