A CPAP mask can be a blessing for those who have sleep apnea. It’s a great way to ease some of the problems caused by a sleeping disorder. But it’s not always the most convenient one. At least not right away for some people.
The compliance rate for these masks, which is the measure of the number of people using them for a period of a few months, is about 60 percent. One of the reasons is that it is not always comfortable.
Another is that it causes skin problems because you are allergic to CPAP masks which is slightly more than minor discomfort. So, if you are one of those people, here’s what you need to know and how you can try and fix it.
What Might Be Causing the Problem
The first step in any problem is to identify what is causing it. Here are some possible explanations for the allergic reaction on your face.
Check the Hygiene
The first cause of any kind of irritation is that there is a cushion between your face and the mask. Even if you sleep perfectly still, your face tends to move a bit when you are asleep. That could cause problems at least till you get used to the mask on your face.
But other than that, if you are experiencing rashes on your face to any degree, you must check the hygiene of the mask. Our face has many oils on it and some of them get released at night when we are asleep. So, you might want to start by washing your face before going to bed if you don’t do it already.
Also, if you are used to putting night cream on your face before going to bed, you might want to stop that and see if it’s a grease problem that is contaminating your mask and causing skin problems.
The lotion also causes chafing on the skin when the cushion moves a bit since, as mentioned before, the face moves when we are asleep.
Facial hair can also be a factor if you don’t take care of its hygiene. So those who have mustaches or beards must make sure they are clean. This also helps the mask fit well.
Apart from your face, you must also clean the CPAP mask regularly to get rid of the oils that you secrete at night. If you don’t, microorganisms accumulate and can cause irritation and pimples on the face.
All you need to do is get some soap and warm water. You can also try wipes that are made particularly to clean CPAP masks.
Do not ever use bleach, alcohol or vinegar to clean the mask. The same applies to commercial cleaning agents because the mask has certain materials that might dry out and it loses its potency.
You can also use a humidifier to make sure it doesn’t dry out but that does not give you license to use harsh chemicals to clean the mask. A CPAP mask must be treated gently and must be cleaned once a week, at least.
This is a big factor in causing irritation. Whether you have a mask that is too small or too big, you will have a problem. But many models have straps that can be adjusted to fit your face just right.
Typically, they are designed to fit an adult face but if that does not work for you, find manufacturers who can customize the mask.
The Mask Liner
Most CPAP masks are made of silicone and it does not cause allergies or irritation. But if you are allergic to a CPAP mask made of this material, you might want to get a mask liner made of a different material. While some cover the entire face, some only cover the nose.
Ideally, you should not experience this. But if you do, it might be because the top of the mask is leaking air. This is why you need to be extra sure that you have a mask that fits just right.
What to Do If You Are Allergic to the Mask
Stop using the mask right away and consult your physician. This often happens right away so you don’t have to worry about a slow burn situation. Most of the time, this happens because of an unclean mask. So, make sure you rule that out.
Otherwise, you might want to check the material it is made of. If it’s not silicone, it might be latex. Find out if you are allergic to it. If not these two, here are some other possibilities.
Rule out Skin Sensitivity
Check with a dermatologist to find out if it is the material of the mask or if your skin is particularly sensitive.
Make sure you wash both your face and the mask as mentioned earlier. You can use a cleanser on your face if you don’t want to wash it. You can also ask your dermatologist if there is a moisture cream that can help with the dryness, redness or chafing on the skin.
Ensure Proper Mask Fit
Make sure the mask is not of the wrong size or shape. Also, check if it fits right after adjusting the straps. When it is not the right fit, the cushion of the mask rubs against your skin or digs into it and causes irritation.
Since the mask will be on your face for a long time, the end result is expected when you have a mask that does not fit right.
Talk to a sleep therapist to find out how to measure your face and pick the right mask. If the skin irritation is only in specific areas, tell them about it so that they can narrow down what is causing the problem.
Let your sleep therapist determine if you need to get a new mask after having the old one for a while. Check your mask regularly to see if there is wear and tear.
Try Cotton CPAP Mask Liners
If the irritation is caused due to silicone or latex, you might want to check out a mask liner that is made of medical-grade cotton which makes them breathable. These make the masks softer and they are available in many brands and sizes.
The idea of a mask liner is to create a fence between the mask and your face and reduce contact burns. The cotton will also absorb some of the oils your face is secreting at night. Make sure you clean the mask more regularly than once a week.
Sleep apnea is a terrible problem and while CPAP masks are a great solution, sometimes it takes more than the first attempt to find the right one for you. But it’s not an impossible task, so good luck!