Selecting Your Sleep Apnea Mask: Finding the Perfect Match

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man sleeping in bed wearing cpap mask

Sleep apnea is a fairly common disorder in which your airways become blocked so you repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. While there are many sleep apnea treatment options, the most common one is a CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure machine. CPAP uses a mask that fits over the nose or face while you sleep to deliver constant air pressure and keep the airways open. These masks can be challenging to use at first and take some getting used to, usually over several weeks to a few months. Fortunately, there are many mask options available and finding the right sleep apnea mask for you will help you get more comfortable and breathe easier at night.  

Types of Sleep Apnea Masks

There are many, many types of CPAP masks, all with different features that provide more options for your comfort. The best fit will depend on several factors, so be sure to try on several masks before making your choice. The main types of sleep apnea masks include:

  • Traditional nose mask: This type of CPAP mask fits just over the nose and usually has straps or a brace to stabilize it on your face. Traditional masks rest on the upper lip and are best for people who breathe through their nose while sleeping. This might be a good choice for people who move a lot in their sleep or those who need a high air pressure setting.

  • Nasal pillow mask: For people who have certain physical features that make traditional CPAP masks uncomfortable, the nasal pillow mask may be a solution. Physical features such as a narrow nose bridge, a short face, or facial hair can prevent proper fit of regular masks, resulting in leaks that allow air to blow into the eyes. Nasal pillow masks tend to be small and also use straps to stabilize the frame of the mask to the face. They also rest on the upper lip and are most suitable for people who breathe through their nose, as well as those who feel claustrophobic with the larger traditional mask.

  • Full-face mask: These masks cover both the nose and mouth to treat people who breathe through their mouth while sleeping. This CPAP mask treats sleep apnea the same way as traditional and nasal pillow masks. It also has a frame that uses straps and sometimes a forehead brace to stabilize it to the face.

Size of the Mask

Depending on the size and physical features of your face, you may have several mask sizes to choose from. It’s important to try on the mask to ensure a proper fit. Sizes can range from extra small to extra large, and the masks often come with several different cushion sizes so you can choose the best one after you’ve slept in it at home. The straps that attach the mask to your head are typically adjustable to fit most head sizes. If you happen to have a particularly small or large head, you may be able to request that size for a more comfortable fit.

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Your Physical Features

Because everyone’s face is different, each type of CPAP mask will fit differently on every face. All of your facial features combined will help determine which mask fits best and is most comfortable for you. The length and width of your nose, the size of your upper lip, the distance between your eyes and the size of your head will all play a role in which mask fits you best. A beard or mustache can also pose a problem, preventing the seal between the mask and your face, so you must take that into consideration when choosing your mask.

Your Sleeping Position

People who sleep on their backs are typically in the best position to use a CPAP mask effectively and easily, but that doesn’t mean side and stomach sleepers can’t benefit from this sleep apnea treatment. If you sleep on your side or stomach, you might have a problem with the mask frame slipping off and causing a leak, sore pressure points, or blocked exhalation ports, which can cause dangerous re-breathing of carbon dioxide. In this case, it’s not the mask that’s the problem, and you might benefit from a special pillow that allows the CPAP mask to fit more comfortably on your face.

Maybe the most important advice for getting a well-fitting CPAP mask is not to give up if it doesn’t feel right immediately. Make sure you aren’t tightening it too much and that the cushion is in good condition, or consider trying a different brand. This can prevent soreness and mask leaks. Getting used to a CPAP machine and mask can take time, so give yourself at least a couple of weeks to adjust to your sleep apnea treatment. Try several different types of masks if you need to. You may be able to exchange the mask for another one within a few weeks if you just can’t get comfortable in it, so check with the CPAP provider to see what options you have.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 10

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  5. CPAP Therapy. American Sleep Apnea Association. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/

  6. CPAP: Treating Sleep Apnea. National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/continuous-positive-airway

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  8. Troubleshooting Guide for CPAP Problems. American Sleep Apnea Association. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/troubleshooting-guide-for-cpap-problems/

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