Avoid Issues with Your CPAP Machine: 6 Common Problems

Thinking about not wearing that shiny new CPAP machine your doctor ordered for you? If you’re tempted to put it back in the box and return to sender, you’re not alone.

Continuous positive airway pressure therapy is an acquired taste for most patients. It just isn’t natural to wear a mask all night while trying to sleep.

Sure, sending the machine away is tempting but don’t do it. Untreated sleep apnea raises your risk for developing some serious health complications including high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type II Diabetes.

Before you give up on using your machine, let's look at 6 common CPAP machine problems and identify solutions so that you can breathe easier.

Difficulty Breathing

A common complaint of patients when they first start using CPAP therapy is difficulty breathing out against pressure.

Of course, it doesn’t feel natural or comfortable at first when you feel air forced into your nose. You can't avoid the air pressure, so let's look at solutions.

When a person experiences difficulty breathing out against the pressure, the problem is likely a result of treatment pressure and machine settings. High-pressure settings, used for best quality nighttime sleep, can cause this problem. 

Pressure and settings both affect breathing. Patients normally have this complaint when they used fixed settings rather than auto CPAP.

Newer machines come with a ramp feature. The ramp feature means the machine starts out with a lower pressure, which is more tolerable for most patients. Pressure then builds up gradually until it reaches the pressure required for sleep. 

Your sleep technician is the go-to resource when you have difficulty exhaling against incoming air.

Feeling Claustrophobic

It’s completely normal to feel anxious when wearing your CPAP mask. For some patients, the anxious feelings grow more serious and they feel claustrophobic.

form of anxiety disorder, claustrophobia is an irrational fear of small spaces. A person with claustrophobia also fears having no way to escape. 

There are things you can do that help you get accustomed to wearing the mask.

Before you ever take a CPAP machine home, you’ll test the mask for fit and style. During this testing time, hold the mask up to your face while the pressurized air flows. Don’t put the straps on.

Give yourself time to adjust to the air blowing in your face and work up to strapping on the headgear.

Once you take your new mask home, wear it around the house. Disconnected from the machine, of course. Do your normal activities and get used to the mask without air blowing in your face.

When you’re ready for bed, take some time to adjust to the machine by putting on the mask, turning on the ramp, and relaxing with a good book or your favorite TV show. You’ll start out at low-pressure and work your way up to your optimum sleep setting. 

I Can’t Sleep

Not being able to fall asleep and stay asleep is another common problem for CPAP machine users. Forced air pressure would keep any normal person awake. 

Often poor sleep hygiene effects a person's ability to wind down and fall asleep.

Improving sleep hygiene isn’t a complicated science. And it doesn’t take long for your body to respond when you implement the following:

  • Go to bed when your body says it’s tired

  • Don’t go to bed if you’re not tired

  • Buy a good mattress and pillow

  • Keep the bedroom dark and quiet.

  • Maintain bedroom temperature between 60 and 68 degrees F

  • Use earplugs and/or an eye mask if needed

  • Avoid coffee or alcohol before bed

  • Turn off your phone and other mobile devices before bed 

Try these techniques and see if you don’t have success falling and staying asleep. If sleep remains an issue, there are products designed to help.

Skin Irritation

Skin irritation is another common problem CPAP machine users talk about with their sleep techs.

Patients wear a mask between 7 and 9 hours each night. It's no wonder they're susceptible to red, irritated skin and even pressure marks.

It’s not unusual for the tech to discover the patient is wearing the headgear too tight. Sometimes irritation occurs if the mask isn’t the proper size.

You want a snug fit because you don’t want air leaks, but feeling uncomfortable or experiencing pain isn't normal.

If your skin is sensitive to latex or silicone, first let a doctor perform allergy tests. Allergies and extreme skin sensitivity aren’t uncommon, but it’s much more likely the mask isn't being cleaned properly.

Clean the mask at least once each week, more often if you notice a buildup on the surface. You can clean with mild soap and water, but it’s better if you use a CPAP mask cleaning solution. The cleaning solution will give you the best results.

Dry Stuffy Nose and Irritated Eyes

The pressurized air from the machine is dry and cool. For some patients, this causes a dry, stuffy nose. Others experience congestion, runny nose and sneezing, and even sinus pain.

To overcome nasal issues, first, make sure your mask fits properly. When you don’t have a good fit, air can leak out, which does dry out your nasal passages.

If the mask isn’t the problem, try using saline spray in your nose at bedtime. If you suffer from chronic allergies, your doctor may prescribe allergy treatment.

Newer CPAP machines have a heated humidifier. These humidifiers do a great job of combatting dry nasal passages.

Irritated eyes are common too and often indicate a leak in the top portion of the mask. Tightening the top straps gently usually takes care of this issue.

Another cause of leaks in the top part of the mask is a worn out mask cushion.

As always, when you have an unusual or unusually annoying symptom, check with your sleep technician. Even the best CPAP machines can’t completely eliminate nasal and eye issues.

The Machine Is Noisy

First, newer CPAP machines are designed for peace and quiet. Most patients can barely hear them. If you have an older machine, you could hear a humming sound or vibrations.

When the noise is enough to disrupt your sleep, consider requesting a new machine.

Even if your machine is new, one noise you may hear is a whistling sound. The sound comes from exhalation ports of the mask. The holes are tiny, and they get clogged if they're not cleaned thoroughly.

If they appear dirty, clean them with a needle or toothpick.

Finally, the noise might come from the machine itself. Check the filters. You should change filters either monthly or when they’re visibly dirty.

Any other noise could indicate a problem with the machine. At that point, the only solution is taking it in for a check-up.

Don't Stop Using Your CPAP Machine

Each of the common CPAP machine problems has a solution. Whether it's getting used to pressurized air in your face, or managing claustrophobia, persistence will help you figure out the best ways of living with the machine.

No matter what, don't stop using your CPAP machine unless you have orders from your doctor. It could save your life!