CPAP Nasal Pillows vs Face Mask: Which Is the Right Choice for You?

face mask vs nasal pillow mask

Sleep apnea is a common health problem in the United States and according to the ASAA (American Sleep Apnea Association) over 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea in the US, of which, around 80% of the people have moderate-to-severe OSA (obstructive sleep apnea).

PAP therapy is among the best methods to treat sleep apnea effectively, which includes the use of CPAP devices to aid easy breathing. While the CPAP therapy machines are an important part of the treatment for sleep apnea, finding the right mask is the most important aspect of CPAP therapy.

Finding a mask with a good seal and one that is comfortable to wear makes all the difference in the success of your CPAP therapy. There are different types of masks and in this article, we’ll discuss the various types and also take a closer look at CPAP nasal pillows vs masks and which is a better option.

CPAP Nasal Pillows vs Mask

There are plenty of varied mask combinations available on the market; however, there are only 3 main types of CPAP masks i.e., full face mask, nasal mask and nasal pillow.

Nasal CPAP Mask

A nasal CPAP mask is also known as an oronasal mask and is worn over the nose only. The mask has a dome that has a rounded, triangular shape, which fits the face comfortably. The mask is held in place by stretchy straps or headgear, which go around the nose.


Pressurized air is delivered via a tube into the space of the nasal CPAP mask. When using the nasal mask, you need to inhale the air through the nose, making it a good option for people who breathe through their nose naturally and require a pressure setting that is higher.

Nasal CPAP Mask Pros

There are many advantages of using a nasal CPAP mask such as:

  • Indirect airflow makes breathing more natural.
  • Works better for higher pressure settings compared to nasal pillows.
  • There is less area to seal compared to a full-face mask, reducing the risk of air leaks.
  • Perfect for active sleepers.
  • Wide range of styles to suit any facial structure and features.

Nasal CPAP Mask Cons

Nasal CPAP masks have some drawbacks including:

  • It may cause skin irritation, especially if there is pressure on the bridge of the nose.
  • Not suitable for people suffering from allergies or sinus problems because, for a nasal CPAP mask, you need to breathe solely through your nose.
  • The mask is not suitable if you breathe through your mouth, although you can use the chinstrap to keep the mouth closed.
  • It may not be suitable if you have medical conditions such as collapsed or narrow nasal valve, enlarged turbinates or a deviated septum, which prevent you from breathing through your nose.

CPAP Nasal Pillows

Also known as nasal cushions, CPAP nasal pillows are a lot smaller than nasal CPAP masks and are very easy to wear. The CPAP nasal pillows are usually inserted at the outer edge of the nostrils and rest on top of the upper lip rather than covering the entire nose.

The nasal pillows are the least invasive of all the masks available and are usually held in place with a strap that is worn around the head. The two pillows/cushions seal the nose and deliver pressure.

The CPAP nasal pillows feature dual-wall flaps that offer ergonomic support and comfort while you sleep and the in-built flexible chamber ensures that the mask remains in place even if you shift from one side to another.

CPAP Nasal Pillows Pros

Some of the advantages of CPAP nasal pillows include:

  • Offers a good seal.
  • Allows you have better vision compared to a nasal CPAP mask or full-face CPAP mask.
  • Works well for people having claustrophobia and who don’t like anything covering their face.
  • Suitable for people with facial hair.
  • Since they direct the air into the nasal passages, it reduces the amount of air leaked.
  • Doesn’t cover the nose bridge and so is good for people wearing glasses.

CPAP Nasal Pillows Cons

Some of the limitations of CPAP nasal pillows include:

  • Since CPAP nasal pillows target the airflow into your nasal passages directly, if you need higher pressures, then breathing with the CPAP nasal pillows may be uncomfortable.
  • CPAP nasal pillows may cause nasal dryness or nosebleeds because of the direct air pressure. If you don’t breathe through your nose at all times, then the CPAP nasal pillows may not be suitable for you.
  • The CPAP nasal pillows are not suitable for mouth breathers and if you are one, then it is a good idea to purchase a chinstrap along with the CPAP nasal pillows to ensure that the seal is snug because if you keep opening your mouth during the CPAP therapy then you will not get sufficient air.

CPAP Nasal Pillows vs Mask—Which Is Better?

CPAP nasal pillows are more compact and lightweight compared to a CPAP mask and the design ensures minimal contact with your face.

CPAP nasal pillows are suitable for people who need low-to-moderate pressure as the air is directly delivered to the nostrils and can be quite uncomfortable at higher pressure settings. And, since the air goes into the nostrils directly, the air leakage is reduced.

Nasal CPAP masks, on the other hand, are not only comfortable to wear but also allow for easy adjustment. The mask offers a good seal and there is a suitable option for all types of facial and nasal structures.

The frame of the nasal CPAP mask is flexible and when you sleep at night, adapts to any movement that you make. Both nasal CPAP masks, as well as CPAP nasal pillows, are good for side sleepers, who can easily change their position without the need to readjust the mask.

Parting Thoughts

In conclusion, CPAP therapy is excellent for the treatment of sleep apnea and choosing the right PAP therapy device and CPAP mask are important considerations.

While there are many CPAP mask options on the market, choosing the right mask of the right size, fit and comfort are important.

If you choose the wrong type of mask, there can be problems like shifting when sleeping, air leaks and lifting of the mask, which may all result in the ineffectiveness of the CPAP therapy.

So, it is essential to evaluate the various options and considerations before selecting the best CPAP mask that will be perfect for your requirements.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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