If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will explain that CPAP therapy can help improve the symptoms and prevent serious health complications.
For many sleep apnea patients, there is a learning curve involved in following their prescribed treatment. CPAP therapy takes a while to get used to. But as your doctor may have told you, compliance with therapy is crucial if you want to see any improvements.
To illustrate the importance of being consistent with therapy, we want to draw your attention to the findings of a recent medical study. Researchers gathered data from 180,000 sleep apnea patients in the United States, and examined CPAP usage hours to determine how many hours were needed for therapy to be effective.
The findings showed that therapy was beneficial even at 2-3 hours per night. As expected, researchers found that effectiveness increases with every subsequent hour of use, for up to 7 hours per night, as they observed a reduction in hospitalizations and emergency room visits linked to high usage hours.
What’s more, the study showed that the benefits of consistency extend over time, since participants reported improvements after 90 days, but also 2 years into the study. This clearly demonstrates that to get the most benefits, therapy must be followed for a full night's sleep, every single night.
Of course, that may be easier said than done, considering the adjustment period that many obstructive sleep apnea patients have to go through.
Next, we will look into the most common obstacles to therapy compliance, and we will offer some useful tips to overcome them.
Why do people quit CPAP therapy?
Not tolerating the mask
Understandably, trying to sleep while your face is covered by a mask can be unpleasant. It is normal to feel claustrophobic during the first stages of therapy, and to have difficulty sleeping because of this. As a result, many people think they will never get used to the claustrophobic feeling and quit therapy.
However, there are things you can do to gradually increase your tolerance to the mask. You can follow a desensitization protocol, which involves wearing the mask during the day for short periods of time, first without straps and later on increasing session duration and attaching the straps.
Developing skin irritation or sores
After the first few nights of use, you may find that the mask leaves marks on your skin, which can become sores. Some people also develop skin irritation, which makes it uncomfortable to continue therapy.
In many cases, skin sores and irritation are caused by a poorly fitting mask. We recommend you experiment with the pads and straps to find a comfortable fit. Full masks shouldn’t sit too high on the nose, so try lowering it for a better fit.
If this doesn’t work, you could ask your sleep specialist about switching to nasal pillow masks, which have a smaller contact area with the skin.
Developing a dry nose or mouth
Waking up with a parched throat or an uncomfortably dry nose is another reason why some people discontinue therapy. A dry nose or mouth can be caused by a leaking mask, so try adjusting the straps a bit tighter to create a better fit.
If there’s no improvement, you may need a heated humidifier and hose. Cold air is drying, but warm and humid air can relieve the symptoms and make mask use more comfortable.
The mask is loose
If you’ve tried adjusting the mask straps and you still can’t get a good fit, the mask may be loose simply because it’s the wrong size. Unfortunately, mask sizes aren’t standardized across the board, as they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
If you continue to feel discomfort or pain, speak to your sleep specialist about getting a different size.
The machine makes too much noise
CPAP machines feature a motor, which may be loud when in operation. Although manufacturers have made big improvements with regards to noise levels, some people still have problems falling asleep while the machine is running. If this is your case, or if you’re sensitive to noise in general, there are several things you can do:
- Ask your sleep specialist for recommendations on quiet machines (usually sub-30 dB).
- Get a longer tube so you can move the machine as far away as possible from your bed.
- Clean the filters regularly, as noise levels increase when they’re dirty or blocked.
- Use ear plugs or a white noise device.
Following the tips above can help you get comfortable with a full course of therapy. This is important considering the overall health benefits of CPAP, which include lowering the risks of heart disease, improved sleep quality, better concentration and therefore accident prevention, lower medical expenses, and a more positive daytime mood.