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What is a CPAP Nasal Mask?

By C. Martin
Updated May 17, 2024
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A CPAP nasal mask is a device, used in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, which aims to prevent the closure of the wearer’s airways by increasing the air pressure in the nose and throat. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the sufferer experiences pauses, caused by obstruction of the airways, in his or her breathing during sleep. These pauses last long enough to cause the sleeper to miss one or more breaths of air, and occur repeatedly during the night, usually resulting in significant daytime drowsiness.

There are many different varieties of CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines, all of which work by delivering a continuous flow of air to the airways. It is the increase in air pressure in the airways, not the movement of the airflow, which has the beneficial effect. Muscles of the airways relax during sleep, and in certain people this causes narrowing of the airways to the extent that an obstruction occurs, resulting in sleep apnea. The extra air pressure delivered to the airways by the CPAP masks keeps these airways open, reducing or preventing sleep apnea. As a side benefit, snoring is also often much reduced while using these devices.

A CPAP nasal mask covers the nose, and is held in place with straps. Other related devices include full-face CPAP masks, which cover the entire face; nose cushion devices, which fit under the wearer’s nostrils rather than covering the whole nose; nasal prongs, which have plastic extensions that fit inside the nostrils; and oral CPAP masks, which deliver the required air pressure to the mouth rather than the nose. The CPAP nasal mask is probably the most popular device for first time users of CPAP devices who wish to try out home treatment for sleep apnea.

The machine that delivers the air to the CPAP nasal mask usually needs to be calibrated for the patient by a sleep specialist. Typically, the patient will be subjected to an overnight sleep study during which a sleep technician will take the necessary measurements. The sleep specialist then uses this data to determine the pressure measurement to prescribe for the patient. This pressure is normally expressed in centimeters of water (cm H2O), and the sleep apnea of most patients responds well to a pressure of between six and fourteen cm H2O. CPAP nasal mask users often report excellent results, even after the first night of usage.

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