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What Are the Risks of CPAP?

CPAP is a safe, painless treatment. Side effects and other problems usually are minor, and they can be treated or fixed. Talk with your doctor if you're having problems using CPAP. He or she can suggest ways to handle or treat these problems.

Although these problems can be frustrating, stick with the treatment. The benefits of CPAP are worthwhile.

Side Effects

Mask Allergies and Skin Irritation

CPAP masks can cause skin allergies or skin irritation. If this happens, try a different type of mask.

CPAP masks come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Some have fewer straps and less contact with your face. Some masks may irritate your skin less than others.

If you have trouble finding a mask that works for you, ask your sleep specialist about nasal pillows. These are small, flexible, mushroom-shaped cones that fit into each nostril.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can be caused by the CPAP itself or from breathing through your mouth at night. A CPAP machine that has a heated humidifier can help relieve this side effect.

If dry mouth persists, your sleep specialist may suggest a chin strap to keep your mouth closed or a different type of mask.

Talk to your sleep specialist if dry mouth continues. Your mask might be leaking air into your open mouth, causing dry mouth.

Congestion, Runny Nose, Sneezing, Sinusitis, and Nosebleeds

Congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sinusitis (si-nu-SI-tis), and nosebleeds can occur while using CPAP. A CPAP machine that has a heated humidifier can help relieve these side effects. Also, make sure that your CPAP mask fits well.

Some people find that using a saline nasal spray at bedtime prevents these side effects. If these steps don't work, talk to your sleep specialist. He or she may prescribe a steroid nasal spray.

Stomach Bloating and Discomfort

A problem with the air pressure setting on your CPAP machine might cause stomach bloating and discomfort. If you have these side effects, talk to your sleep specialist. He or she may adjust the settings of your machine to relieve these problems.

Problems With the CPAP Equipment

Mask Leaks

Many factors can cause a CPAP mask to leak. To avoid a leak, follow the instructions that come with the mask. Try washing the mask daily. Also, wash your face and use a moisturizer so your skin is moist before you put on the mask.

You might find it helpful to adjust the mask's straps. When straps are too loose or too tight, a leak can happen. You may need to select a different size or type of mask.

If your CPAP mask leaks air, you won’t get the proper amount of air pressure. Also, leaks can lead to skin or eye irritation.

Very small leaks don't stop the machine from producing the correct amount of air pressure. But small leaks can cause a shrill sound that disturbs the sleep of others in the house.

Don't use tape or grease on a mask to prevent leaks, unless advised by your home equipment provider or sleep specialist.

Air Pressure Problems

The air pressure from CPAP makes some people feel like it's hard to exhale (breathe out) or like they're choking or suffocating. Some people swallow air, which may cause burping.

If you have problems with the air pressure from CPAP, it may help to use the "ramp" feature on your CPAP machine. This feature allows the machine to slowly "ramp up" from a lower air pressure to the pressure that's needed to keep your airway open during sleep.

If your machine doesn't have this feature or if it doesn't help, talk to your sleep specialist. He or she may suggest a different CPAP machine. If that doesn't work, your sleep specialist may suggest another type of positive airway pressure.

Mask Removal

To get the full benefit of CPAP, you should use it every time you sleep. Some people remove the CPAP mask while they're asleep. If this happens, you might be able to solve the problem by:

  • Finding a mask that fits better.
  • Using a CPAP machine that has a humidifier. This might make the treatment more comfortable and stop you from removing the mask.
  • Using a chin strap to hold the mask in place.

Some CPAP machines come with an alarm that makes noise if the mask comes off.

Noise

Most new CPAP machines are fairly quiet. The noise that they make is soft and rhythmic. If the noise bothers you, check the air filter to make sure the machine is working properly. Your sleep specialist or home equipment provider also can check the machine for you.

If the CPAP machine is working properly, but the noise still bothers you, try using earplugs or a white-noise sound machine.

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December 13, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.