A CPAP mask is a piece of respiratory medical equipment that works with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines to help people with obstructive sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, the lungs don't receive the proper amount of air during sleep since the tongue, as well as the skin flap called the uvula at the back of the throat, block the airway. This is a serious condition since a person with sleep apnea may stop breathing many times during the night or even during a nap. A CPAP hose connects the mask to the machine and this system works to prevent airway blockage by creating air pressure that opens the tongue and uvula to allow air to reach the lungs. Proper fit is essential in a CPAP mask.
CPAP masks are designed to fit different face shapes. Some of the head gear attached to the masks can resemble a horse's halter as they have a strap that fits across the jaw as well as one that goes around the upper part of the head. If a CPAP mask doesn't fit correctly, air leakage may occur. Air leaks are usually caused by the jaw opening during sleep and CPAP masks with a chin strap can help solve this problem.
Another common problem with CPAP masks is the straps leaving marks on the face or causing discomfort. Some masks have gel-padded forehead straps to help prevent this and a CPAP mask may be gel-filled as well. Gel types of CPAP masks are newer than those made from silicone. Silicone masks wear out after about seven months due to oils from the skin, so this type of sleep apnea mask has to be replaced fairly often. Some CPAP machine systems require just the silicone part of the mask to be replaced.
There are two basic types of CPAP masks. One kind fits over the nose and creates a seal, while the other main type of CPAP mask has pillow-like pieces that fit into the nostrils. Many people prefer the nostril type as they don't like the idea of having their nose completely sealed off. Either type is considered effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea — the type of CPAP mask used depends on the wearer's preference. Many CPAP masks are priced between $90 and $190 US dollars (USD) with the average CPAP machine price being close to $400 USD.
It's important that the CPAP mask and machine are used during every sleep since the equipment only helps prevent breathing stoppage during use. Studies show that 1 in every 3 CPAP users quit using the system within a year and this is mostly due to an uncomfortable or ill-fitting mask. Some users complain of increased sinus infections and/or a dry throat. More comfortable and better fitting CPAP masks are constantly being developed. Nasal spray and humidifiers can help reduce sinus and throat problems.