CPAP machines are devices that send pressurized air through a tube and into a mask on the patient's face to help the patient breath through apneas that may occur while sleeping. Masks can come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles. When choosing which mask is right for you, you must take into consideration things like your facial hair, which may interfere with a seal, as well as glasses you may wear and whether or not the masks make you feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic.
The most common form of delivery for a CPAP machine is the face mask. The face mask usually covers the nose or both the nose and mouth. The face mask is usually triangular in shape and has a hole for the tube leading from the CPAP machine. Some face masks also include another opening for the attachment of an oxygen supplement. Face masks also have a built in release valve, which acts as an intentional leak to allow fresh air to constantly enter the mask and prevent exhaled air from being inhaled again. Face masks have straps that are adjustable to allow a good seal to be achieved on the face. These straps usually encircle either the head, the back of the neck or both, with some masks including a strap for under the chin to prevent the opening of the mouth while sleeping, which would defeat the treatment.
An alternative to the traditional face mask is called nasal pillows, which are nasal inserts attached to the ends of the tubing that form the seal in the nasal cavity. While they make for a very comfortable experience by removing the need for straps and headgear, they are ineffective at higher pressures, where they may lose their seal and therefore compromise the treatment. Another alternative which is similar to the nasal pillows is a device that resembles a nasal cannula. The seal is formed by the diameter of the tubing being placed in the nose, but otherwise functions similarly to the nasal pillows.
When choosing the right mask or other form of delivery for you, it is tantamount that you choose as comfortable an option as possible to maximize the benefits of the CPAP machine. An uncomfortable mask or delivery system may result in a worsening of sleep due to discomfort caused by the mask, so ensure that your mask is the right one for you. Do not be afraid to try several different masks, or even a completely different method of delivery. Be sure to tell your doctor of any complaints you might have with your current mask, and do not hesitate to ask for a replacement mask if the current one is not satisfactory.
In some ways, the mask you choose is more important than the actual CPAP machine. Your quality of sleep is being treated, and if your treatment is lowering your quality of sleep then it has already failed. Be sure to try many different variations to find the one that suits you best.