Sleep Devices / Masks

CPAP can be intimidating, but choosing the right options can make you more comfortable.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are currently the most recommended treatment forobstructive sleep apnea, and patients often feel major improvement after using them for just one night. But before you decide whether the therapy works for you, it’s important to consider the different options available: Where you buy your machine, which type you end up with, and what options are included will all affect how willing you are to use CPAP and how well it will work for you.

Getting a prescription 

To get an air pressure machine, you first need to be diagnosed with sleep apnea. This process will probably require an overnight study in a sleep clinic; a home sleep test may be another option. 

After your initial sleep study, a technician will measure your body’s response to different air pressure, or titration, levels. Most machines range from about 4 to 20 cm H20, meaning that they blow enough air to create a column of water that height. 

Your prescription can be filled at a sleep clinic or another equipment retailer. It should include the following details.

  • The type of device—CPAP, BiPAP, or APAP, for example.
  • The correct pressure level. These levels are set before you receive the machine and should only be adjusted by a doctor or technician, never by the patient

With your machine, you’ll usually receive a six-foot hose and carrying case. Doctors might also include a note for a heated humidifier, which makes the harsh airflow more tolerable and reduces side effects such as dry throat and nasal congestion. You can buy a humidifier without a specific prescription, but if it’s included on your slip you’ll be sure not to overlook it. Masks and other accessories can also be sold without a prescription.

Shopping around 

Many centers are equipped to provide you with a CPAP machine immediately after your sleep study, or they can refer you to a local durable medical equipment (DME) supplier that sells or rents them. They’ll also fit you for a mask and show you how the whole system works together. 

Insurance usually covers or reimburses the cost of the machines

Choosing a mask 

Once your doctor finds the right air pressure level for your CPAP, the next step is finding a breathing device that fits well and is comfortable enough to wear through the night. There are four main types of CPAP masks, all secured by straps around the forehead and/or chin, with flexible foam or gel cushioning:

• Nasal pillows, or tiny tubes that fit directly into the nostrils

• Nasal masks, which form a seal directly around the nose

• Full-face masks, which cover the nose and mouth

• Oral masks, which are attached between the lips and gums

Most insurance companies will replace masks a few times each year, and accessories like nasal cushions more frequently. Some CPAP users like to keep two or three masks they’re comfortable with, so they can switch occasionally to relieve pressure and irritation on the face. 

Bells and whistles 

Depending on your lifestyle and personal preferences, you may find spending a little extra money on special features such as battery backup to be worthwhile. 

If you use a humidifier in a cold room, a rainout reduction kit can help prevent condensation from forming in the hose. You can even buy hose extensions (to improve your mobility) and insulated sleeves (to give them a softer look and feel). 

Many CPAP models contain a memory chip that helps your doctor measure your compliance; others adjust pressure automatically when you travel to higher altitudes. Browse online retailers and talk with your medical supplier about what options might make CPAP therapy more effective.