How to Fix 6 Common CPAP Side Effects? Find Out Here

cpap problems and side effects

CPAP has become a gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, but it can lead to some side effects. Learn how to fix them to improve your CPAP compliance.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is known to be the most effective option for treating OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). However, using a CPAP device can be overwhelming because it comes with the risk of some common side effects.

Using your CPAP equipment continually is the only way to fully benefit from sleep apnea therapy. Therefore, understanding and fixing the common CPAP side effects is critical to achieving long-term positive results.

This article discusses six common CPAP side effects and how to avoid them. 

Luckily, you can make some adjustments to your CPAP device to fix most of these side effects. Let’s get started!

1.   Nasal Congestion

Irritation or congestion of the nasal passage is one of the most common CPAP side effects. It can include CPAP sinus headache, nosebleeds, burning sensation, runny nose, or stuffy nose.

Usually, the flow of pressurized and dry air through sinuses causes nasal congestion. It can be specifically common in those people who suffer from frequent sinus infections.

How to Fix It?

You can moisturize your nasal passage by using a nasal spray for short-term relief. On the other hand, consider using a good-quality CPAP humidifier for long-term care. 

Humidification soothes irritation and alleviates dryness by adding moisture to the airflow.

You can also use a heated humidifier that warms the moisturizing air gently for a more natural feel and added relief.

2.   Dry Mouth

Just like nasal congestion, pressurized and dry air can also cause dry throat or mouth, and it normally happens to mouth breathers. 

It’s also common in people who use a CPAP device with a full face mask. In addition, the mouth leak can also cause this side effect in people who use nasal or pillow masks.

How to Fix it?

You can use a CPAP chinstrap if you use a nasal or pillow mask. The chin straps are specially designed for CPAP devices, and they gently keep your mouth from opening during sleep.

You can also use a CPAP humidifier in order to soften your airflow regardless of the mask type you use.

3.   Skin Irritation

A CPAP mask can collect your sweat, dead skin cells, and skin oils while you’re sleeping. It can cause bacteria and germs buildup that can lead to skin sores, acne, rash, and irritation. 

This CPAP side effect happens when you don’t maintain your equipment.

How to Fix It?

It’s critical to wash and clean your CPAP mask regularly using water and soap. You should also replace the mask’s cushions every two to four weeks. It’s important to note that the micro-tears in foam or silicon tend to collect germs with time.

In order to get rid of the skin oil and sweat buildup, consider using mask gel and mask liners. Other than keeping you from skin irritation and related problems, it also ensures a proper mask seal.

4.   Dry Eyes

Dry eyes are the common sign of mask leak, and the escaping air dries your eyes by blowing across your face. The quantity of leaking varies with your position during the night, and you might not be able to notice it.

How to Fix It?

The first and the most important step to fix this problem is to make sure that your face mask fits perfectly. A good strategy is to lie in your preferred position and re-adjust the fit and make sure it’s not too tight or too loose.

If your mask’s cushion needs to inflate, lift it slightly above your head and let it build up pressure. If you still experience leakage, leave your current mask for good and buy a new one. The best practice is to replace the headgear every six months and the mask frame after every three months.

5.   Difficulty in Exhaling

While most people adjust very well to CPAP therapy, some users can experience difficulty in exhaling. Even though CPAP allows enough air, this condition can make you feel shortness of breath.

How to Fix It?

The first step to fix this problem is to try the EPR (Expiratory Pressure Relief) settings of your CPAP device. This setting is also known as SmartFlex, C-Flex, or A-Flex, and it reduces the airflow pressure while exhaling.

You can also consult with your sleep specialist regarding AutoCPAP or APAP (Automatic Positive Airway Pressure) devices. This device comes with advanced algorithms to adjust the pressure by analyzing your unique breathing patterns.

Your sleep specialist might also advise you to use a Bi-Level CPAP/BiPAP device that offers two different airway pressure settings. Lower pressure while exhaling and higher pressure while inhaling.

6.   Burping, Bloating, and Gas

Higher pressure settings increase the likelihood of swallowing air which is also known as aerophagia. The CPAP flow can redirect to your esophagus when breathing against it becomes difficult. 

Resultantly it can cause passing gas, stomach pain, burping, and bloating.

How to Fix It?

You should consult with your sleep specialist or doctor to adjust the pressure settings that suit you the best. You must not play around with your equipment’s pressure setting without your sleep specialist’s supervision.

Best Practices to Prevent CPAP Side Effects

Unwanted CPAP side effects can discourage you greatly, but there’s no point in giving up on the best possible treatment for sleep apnea. You can use the following practices to completely eliminate or at least reduce the CPAP problems you’re facing.

  • Use saline gel (water-soluble) on your nostrils.
  • Clean your CPAP device regularly.
  • Consider heated tubing or sinus medication.
  • Add mask barrier products or humidification.
  • Avoid oil-based products for cleaning.
  • Make sure that the straps are properly secured.
  • Ensure the proper mask fit.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, sticking to your CPAP device to treat sleep apnea will help you prevent health issues ranging from daytime drowsiness to even cardiovascular events. While CPAP therapy brings the risk of side effects, the benefits undoubtedly outweigh the disadvantages.

You can use the easy fixes discussed in this post but remember to always consult with your sleep specialist before making any modifications to your existing CPAP treatment plan.



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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