CPAP machines, and their BiPAP and APAP counterparts, are an effective way to treat obstructive sleep apnea. But as with any medical treatment, there is the potential for side effects. The good news is that it is possible to prevent CPAP machine side effects. Doing so is key to sleep apnea treatment compliance, effectiveness and quality of life.
If you’re suffering from any of these common CPAP side effects, check out the following list of ways to relieve them for more restful sleep. Contact your health provider if you have concerns that your CPAP machine is negatively affecting your sleep quality.
Nasal Dryness, Congestion and Bleeding
Nasal dryness is a very common symptom for both newer and longer-term sleep apnea machine users. Most often, it is the result of dry pressurized air being forced through the mask and nasal inserts.
What you can do:
Check your machine’s pressure settings: The appropriate pressure is vital to your machine’s effectiveness but set too high it can cause these and other side effects. Talk to a health provider about how to adjust your machine’s pressure to avoid excessive dryness.
Lubricate nasal pillows: If you use inserted nasal pillows, you can consider adding a lubricant to prevent friction and keep nasal passages moisturized. Consider a water-based moisturizer free of additives and perfumes to limit irritation. Note that petroleum jelly-based products can damage nose cushions and other plastic pieces within your mask and headgear. Over time, their use can lead to lung irritation as they are inhaled, especially when using heated CPAP machines and tubes.
Use a humidifier: CPAP machines have not always had humidifiers; some still do not. Using a stand-alone humidifier can help raise the ambient humidity in the room and alleviate some dryness. But it may be more effective to get a machine with an attached humidifier.
Use a heated tube: Heated tubes can be purchased for a variety of machines and are standard with some models. They are designed to mimic the human body temperature for a more natural breathing process. The correct temperature can also regulate humidity more effectively to keep your respiratory system moisturized and oxygen levels within a healthy range.
Similar to nasal dryness, dry mouth is a symptom of dehumidified air being forced into your respiratory system. Irritated nasal passages can also cause you to breathe through your mouth. Chronic mouth breathing while sleeping causes saliva to evaporate, leading to side effects like bad breath, illness and tooth decay.
What you can do:
Use a humidifier: Using a humidified CPAP machine can help relieve mouth dryness. If you are using a humidifier and are still experiencing dry mouth, check your hose or mask for leaks.
Use a moisturizing mouthwash: If the discomfort of mouth breathing wakes you during the night or leaves you feeling dried out in the morning, a quick swish of xylitol-based mouthwash can moisturize the mouth and throat while promoting oral health.
Use a chinstrap or nasal pillows: CPAP machine accessories like nasal cushion/pillow inserts can help mechanically direct air through your nose rather than your mouth. The chin strap can gently prevent your mouth from opening while the nasal cushions can be inserted into the nostril, routing air directly into nasal passages.
This CPAP machine side effect is common in those new to sleep apnea treatment. Pressurized air is key to effective treatment but it can also be a source of side effects.
What you can do:
Consider an APAP or BiPAP machine: While traditional CPAP machines are still the standard of care and have seen significant technology upgrades in recent years, newer APAP and BiPAP varieties are designed for increased comfort and unique breathing. BiPAP machines are used for a number of breathing disorders and are equipped for expiratory pressure (when you exhale).
Adjust the pressure: Modify your CPAP machine’s exhale settings to limit the continued force of pressure you experience while exhaling. Always speak to your healthcare provider about adjusting your machine settings.