When using a CPAP, BiPAP, or ASV/APAP machine, the patient is fitted with a face mask that forms an air-tight seal with the face, which, when pressurized from the attached machine, will allow air to be forced into the patient's airway, helping to reduce the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. There is a wide variety of masks to choose from, varying in size and fit, as well as several styles of masks that cater to individual needs.
Most sleep apnea face masks are triangular in shape and fit over the nose or the nose and mouth. The face mask is usually secured using straps that strap around the back of the head and the chin to allow for a secure and comfortable wear. These face masks are typical of the treatment, and they come in many varieties and sizes to suit the individual who is purchasing them.
A tight fit with these masks is key, because if the pressure is unable to build up, the effectiveness of the apparatus that is attached is limited and the apneas will go untreated. The seal can be broken if the straps are too loose, allowing the air to escape, or if the straps are too tight, bending the seals and allowing the mask to depressurize. A mask that doesn't fit the face well can also have leaks where it fails to meet the contours of the face. The masks do include, however, and intentional "built-in leak" so that the exhaled air may escape the pressurized mask and allow fresh air into the mask.
There are also some other forms of delivery for the pressurized air. One such form is a mask specifically designed to deliver air to the mouth only. This system of delivery requires no headgear, as the only contact points with the patient are with the area around the mouth. However, the mask does require humidification to create a seal.
Another method of delivery is the use of nasal "pillows," which are small, pliable plastic inserts that are attached to the delivery hose and then inserted into the nostrils. These also require no headgear, and can accommodate glasses as well as large beards and mustaches that may otherwise prevent a seal from forming on the face. Patients also have reported lowered feelings of claustrophobia and a general increase in comfort. Similar to this is a system that resembles nasal cannula, and function similarly to the nasal pillows, but uses large tubing to create the seal.
Maintaining a seal with all of the aforementioned face masks is extremely important to the effectiveness of the machine. There are many factors that can cause a bad seal to form that do not deal directly with the face mask itself. Skin care is very important in creating a good seal, as dry or excessively oily skin will not allow for a good seal to form.
Face masks are a very important part of the treatment of sleep apnea when using a CPAP machine or the like. Most sleep apnea face masks are able to connect to a standard air hose, so compatibility is usually not an issue. When trying different face masks, be sure to check for comfort, usability, and durability to maximize the treatment's effectiveness.