CPAP My Frienemy: Developing a Good Relationship with Your Therapy

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By Eugena Brooks

Something worse than having a dentist or doctor sit a person down and explain that they have sleep apnea is, for some people, having to actually learn to deal with the condition. Let’s be honest—many of us have hated continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or still hate it today. At the very least – I believe many of us truly hate/hated the idea of it.

Thank goodness we don’t have to suffer through the early CPAP machine monstrosities that sounded as deafening as an airplane! Some people even housed the first commercially-available CPAP machines in different rooms or floors from where they slept because of the sound keeping them awake! Can you believe people really drilled holes in their ceilings or walls to accommodate hoses?

Learning to “Live with It”

Still, the small, quiet boxes that now sit on our nightstands can be overwhelming. Learning to live with CPAP is not a natural fit for some people, and certainly not always easy to accept. Let’s reflect on the following points and scenarios:

There’s this mask that might cause claustrophobia for some people, and a hose that tethers them to it.
Not to mention the odd noises it emits if the mask doesn’t fit right.
Then there’s the part about having to use it every night.
What’s your bed partner going think?
How is a person supposed to get any sleep under these conditions?

Personal CPAP Trek

Believe you me I get it. I am a quiet, in the dark kind of sleeper. So, this thing the CPAP supplier gave me some years ago was a disaster. I was in my late forties, widowed, the kids were out of the house and I didn’t care for wearing pajamas much less a face mask tied to a hose connected to a machine. It wasn’t like I could tell if it was doing anything besides keeping me awake. I hardly ever wore it. In fact, I rarely wore it.

As time went by, I gained weight and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Repeated bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia and infections lead to COPD exacerbations causing fluctuating blood pressure and eventually atrial fibrillation (AFib). That said, if you don’t want this reality and believe me you don’t then it’s time to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get with the CPAP program.


Here are a few suggestions for learning how to get along with your CPAP

Get the Right Mask:

This is a trial and error situation but only in the beginning. Most doctors and durable medical equipment providers (DME) will help you get sized for a mask. Then, if the first one doesn’t fit snugly, let your supply provider know you need to try different type of mask. Or you can search for yourself online. There is a wide range of masks that address a variety of facial structures.  One size does not fit all.

Wearing the Mask is Learned Behavior:

Unless you wear some sort of mask for employment or recreational activities, wearing a mask takes some getting used to. I began by wearing it for short periods of time while doing something else to distract me like when watching TV, reading or just listening to music. I will still put on soft music if I am having a little trouble dropping off to sleep. This should also be helpful if you have the sensation of claustrophobia. Talk with your doctor about learning relaxation exercises.

Getting Accustomed to Forced Air:

Most machines come with a ramp feature that you can adjust, allowing the machine to start at a lower pressure so you can relax, then ramping up to your prescribed pressure setting. If you don’t have a ramp setting- you should speak with your doctor about getting a machine that does. Many people find that the need for the ramp feature subsides when a person becomes more acclimated to the therapy. In the meantime, try learning to synchronize your breathing to the rhythm of the machine pressure while listening to soft music or nature sounds.

Dry Stuffy Nose:

Check your mask for leaks. A leaky mask can cause dryness. If you always have to adjust the straps then the mask may not be the right size. A machine with the humidifier feature is very helpful with this issue. Using a saline spray at bedtime will also help curb the dryness effect.

Dry Mouth:

Using a full-face mask with a CPAP humidifier should help. You might also try using a chin strap with nasal pillows as well. If you are like me and suffer from rhinitis, a full-face mask might be your best bet.

Time and Patience Are Keys for Success:

Using a CPAP device may be frustrating to some as they get used to it, but it’s important that you stick with it. The treatment is essential to avoiding complications of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), such as heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and also excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Work with your doctor and CPAP supplier to ensure the best fit and device for you. Regular visits to your sleep doctor are important and can help troubleshoot any problems and adjust settings, if needed. It can take a while to find the correct settings and get used to the mask.

With time, patience, and a positive attitude, you can develop a good relationship with your CPAP.