CPAP Masks: What are the Different Types?

As I discussed in my article about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy, CPAP machines work by delivering constant air pressure to a patient’s airways via tubing connected to a mask strapped over the face. Masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it is advised for patients to work with their sleep doctor to find what fits best for them. Here, I’ll discuss the main types of CPAP masks available for sleep apnea patients to choose from.

Nasal masks

woman wearing nasal mask for cpap

Many consider nasal masks to be the best CPAP mask for side sleepers. They cover the whole nose, from the bridge to the nostrils and upper lip. Air is delivered indirectly to the airways via the nose. Therefore, nasal masks typically require higher pressure settings.

There is a large variety of options of nasal masks, and they come in many styles and sizes. In terms of general size and bulkiness, these masks are a good compromise between the large, bulky full-face mask and the small nasal pillow.

These masks are an ideal choice for patients who:

  • Breathe through their nose while they sleep
  • Often move around in their sleep
  • Are side-sleepers
  • Use higher air pressure settings on their CPAP machine
ProsCons
Natural airflow through the noseSome report irritation on forehead
or bridge of nose due to pressure of
the mask
Better for higher pressure settings
compared to nasal pillows
Not the best for mouth breathers,
unless used with a chin strap that
keeps the jaw and mouth closed
Variety of styles and sizesNot effective if patient has blocked
sinuses
Not ideal for patients with altered
nasal structure (eg, deviated
septum)

Nasal pillows

man wearing cpap nasal pillow

Many also consider nasal pillows to be the best CPAP mask for side sleepers. Also called nasal cushions, these masks are the smallest and most lightweight option for patients. They provide a seal around each nostril and supply air directly through the nostrils, and are often attached to headgear that straps around the top, back of the head. This design allows for the least amount of contact with the face.

Nasal pillows work best at low to moderate air pressure settings. Since air is supplied directly through the nostrils, high pressure settings can cause discomfort in the nose.

These masks are an ideal choice for patients who:

  • Breathe through their nose while they sleep
  • Often move around in their sleep
  • Are side-sleepers
  • Have beards/considerable facial hair
  • Wear glasses
  • Experience particular discomfort or claustrophobia with larger CPAP masks
ProsCons
Lightweight and provide minimal
contact with the face
Not ideal of patients who require
higher pressure settings
Minimize air leakage since air is
supplied directly through nostrils
Patients may experience
nosebleeds or nasal dryness
Block vision less compared to nasal
masks or full-face masks
Not ideal for mouth breathers
(unless used with a chin strap)

Full-face masks

man wearing cpap full face mask

Full-face masks are the best CPAP mask for open mouth breathers. They cover both the nose and the mouth, and they take up a large area of the patient’s face. Side straps on the mask help to keep it in place on the face.

Full-face masks typically require higher pressure settings, as air is supplied indirectly to the nose and mouth.

These masks are an ideal choice for patients who:

  • Require high pressure settings on their CPAP machine
  • Breathe through their mouth while they sleep
  • Sleep on their back
  • Have frequent congestion (eg, allergies or cold symptoms) that make it hard for them to breathe through their nose
ProsCons
Provide greater surface area to
supply air at high pressure, making
the pressure seem less direct and
more tolerable
Blocks vision more compared to
other types of masks
Good for patients who sleep on
their back since there is optimal air
seal in this position
Not ideal of patients who wear
glasses as they cover the bridge of
the nose
Extra support and straps for
patients who move around
frequently in their sleep
Not ideal for stomach- or
side-sleepers since bulkiness of
mask may cause it to be displaced
during sleep
Higher chance of air leakage due to
larger surface area
Dry eyes due to leakage from top of
mask

Closing points

Size, fit, and comfort are extremely important for selecting the right CPAP mask for sleep apnea patients. If these factors are not right, or they do not address a patient’s breathing requirements, patients can become non-compliant with their CPAP therapy.

For these reasons, patients need to be educated about their CPAP therapy and their mask options. It is crucial for patients to know what their options are to:

  • Better help themselves
  • Have a more fruitful conversation with their physician about finding the mask that works best for them
References
  1. American Association of Sleep Technologists. Which CPAP mask is best for your patient? Pros & cons of various mask types. https://www.aastweb.org/blog/cpap-masks-options-full-face-nasal-and-nasal-pillows. Published December 20, 2017. Accessed January 2019.
  2. American Sleep Apnea Association. Choosing a mask. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/choosing-a-mask/. Accessed January 2019.
  3. Philips Respironics. How to choose a CPAP mask. https://www.sleepapnea.com/products/masks/how-to-choose/. Accessed January 2019.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Slide show: which CPAP masks are best for you? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/multimedia/cpap-masks/sls-20076986. Published December 7, 2015. Accessed January 2019.

Images courtesy of Flickr.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *