Table of contents
10 Most Common Side Effects While Using a CPAP MachineHow To Prevent CPAP Machine Side EffectsAdjusting CPAP Pressure to Prevent CPAP Therapy Side EffectsPositive Effects of CPAP Machines
Sleeplay logo

About us

Sleeplay helps you achieve the best and deepest sleep during the night. If you suffer from snoring or sleep apnea, CPAP machines are the solution. Find here the top brands in the market like ResMed and Philips Respironics.

5 Tips To Avoid CPAP Machines Common Side Effects

Jan 23, 2024
· 11 mins read

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders in the US and the rest of the world. It leads to daytime sleepiness, snoring and fatigue, affecting your quality of life.

The best treatment option is, in most cases, getting a CPAP machine, but as with many other medical treatments, it can lead to a few side effects. We’ll mention the most common and how to treat them.

10 Most Common Side Effects While Using a CPAP Machine

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy is considered one of the best sleep apnea treatment options. This medical device contains a motor and a filter that turns room air into pressurized air and delivers it through a CPAP mask into your nose, or your nose and mouth while you sleep, to help keep your airway open. 

While CPAP therapy offers many benefits for people with sleep apnea and is  recommended by most healthcare professionals, many CPAP users complain of: 

1. Dry or runny nose

Most CPAP users experience this common side effect upon waking up. It’s likely that the air pressure from the CPAP machine is drying out your nasal passage to the point of irritation, which may also lead to developing a parched throat. If not taken care of, it can also lead to nose bleeding. The air the machine receives from the mask is quite dry, which can give rise to a burning sensation in the lungs. 

2. Claustrophobia

Another common CPAP machine side effect is exacerbating feelings of claustrophobia in individuals who are prone to it. Even those not initially claustrophobic may develop such sensations when wearing the mask, as it snugly fits over the nose and covers a significant portion of the face, creating discomfort.

Particularly, using a full mask would heighten your chances of becoming claustrophobic.

Opting for a nasal pillow mask is a good option, as it doesn’t cover the entire face. If your doctor has prescribed a full mask, it may be better to try the ‘one step at a time’ approach. 

Start using the full face mask during naps before attempting an entire night's sleep. Alternatively, wear the mask while awake during leisure activities like reading or watching TV.

With consistent use, your tolerance for the mask will likely improve, allowing you to wear it comfortably for extended periods and achieve restful sleep without feeling congested. 

Some CPAP machines come with a sleep onset mechanism, initiating with gentle air pressure that gradually increases to the prescribed level once it detects that you've fallen asleep. This feature can make adapting to the CPAP machine more manageable and enhance your overall sleep experience.

Man using a cpap mask

3. Sinus infections

If the mask has not been cleaned recently or properly, it can lead to mold and bacterial growth. These microorganisms can enter and affect the upper airway, leading to concurrent infections.

An easy way to prevent sinus infections is by committing to a regular cleaning schedule and using the best soaps to clean your CPAP equipment.

4. Bloating

If you feel bloated after waking up, there is a good chance you are accidentally swallowing air from the CPAP mask, a condition known as aerophagia. While there isn’t a specific medical remedy for this, adjusting your sleep position might offer relief. 

Chuck the pillow and lay down flat on your back. If that doesn’t help, experiment with side sleeping or elevate your head more than usual with a pillow. The key is to adopt a sleep position different from our current one.

If changing your position doesn’t resolve the issue, it’s time to discuss it with your doctor. Consult them and find out whether the air pressure can be lowered.

5. Dry eyes

As far as CPAP side effects are concerned, they are particularly hard to detect since dry eyes can occur for a number of reasons. If you notice a tightness around your eyes every time you wake up, it could be due to air leakage through the mask right where it meets your nose bridge.

The air could be blowing right into your eyes, thus causing dryness. However, there’s an easy fix for it. Instead of tightening your mask and triggering claustrophobia, add a bit of cotton ball or a nasal pillow mask so that your mask fits snugly around your face.

 If changing your position doesn’t resolve the problem, your mask might need resizing. It’s likely that it’s either too big or too small for the expanse of your face.

6. Discomfort when exhaling

The uncomfortable feeling of resistance when exhaling may be worse for people who need higher levels of air pressure to treat sleep apnea.

Many CPAP machines come with an Exhalation Pressure Relief feature. This feature slightly decreases air pressure during exhalation, making it more comfortable. Check if your CPAP machine has this option and consult your healthcare provider about adjusting the settings.

Utilize the ramp feature on your CPAP machine to allow the pressure to start at a lower level and gradually increase to your prescribed setting. This can make the transition and exhalation more comfortable as you ease into the therapy.

7. Skin irritation

A reddish rash or tiny bumps on the cheeks indicates potential issues around the nose area. This condition may arise from three primary causes.

Firstly, congestion of facial oil can result from a tight-fitting mask. Alternatively, if the mask is excessively tight, it may leave marks on your face. Another possible cause could be an allergic reaction to the material of the mask.

To address oil buildup, cleanse your face before wearing the mask and clean the mask cushion in the morning to prevent residual oil from affecting your skin upon reuse.

If the issue persists, consider using a mask liner or a nasal pillow mask designed to have minimal contact with the skin.

The redness around the philtrum or the bridge of the nose may indicate that the headgear straps are too tight. Adjust the straps to avoid bruising and potential pain.

If your mask is too tight due to a leak, it's advisable to change it. Make minor adjustments to ensure the mask's weight is evenly distributed.

For those experiencing an allergic reaction to a new CPAP mask, the discomfort often lessens over time. Soak the mask in lukewarm, soapy water to expedite relief to eliminate remaining chemical particles. Be cautious not to soak it for too long to avoid potential damage to the silicone material, a method applicable to any type of mask.

8. Lightheadedness

Some CPAP mask users have reported feeling light-headed after treatment. While the exact cause remains unclear, it is commonly attributed to the adjustment in pressure affecting the middle ear.

If you experience dizziness, it is advisable to consult with your doctor. They can assess the situation and consider adjusting the pressure to a more suitable level, minimizing the likelihood of feeling light-headed at the conclusion of the treatment. Seeking professional guidance ensures a tailored approach to address and alleviate this particular side effect.

9. Headaches

Even if headaches aren’t the most common side effect of CPAP. However, high air pressure or pre-existing sinus problems might trigger some patients.

If the CPAP machine is creating a barrier for the sinus cavities, it could be causing pressure for those cavities. The built-up pressure can give rise to headaches.

There are medications available that could help keep your sinus cavities open. You could also use a heated humidifier when the CPAP machine is in use to keep your sinus passageway unblocked. If your headache persists even after trying these methods, it might be better to call your ENT specialist as soon as possible.

Discomfort due Sleep Apnea

10. Chest pain

The CPAP device may cause discomfort in the chest muscles. This is usually a short-term side effect as the person gets used to sleeping with a CPAP device

How To Prevent CPAP Machine Side Effects

Even if CPAP use can develop side effects, there are many resources or techniques you can apply daily to sleep comfortably. 

Here are 5 tips to avoid common CPAP Machine side effects:

Use a humidifier

CPAP machines often have a heated humidifier built into them. The humidifier can add warm, moist steam to the airflow of the machine, which can prevent your mouth or nasal passages from becoming irritated or dry. 

Your doctor may also prescribe medications or suggest other methods to reduce congestion while using CPAP. 

Use CPAP accessories

Chin straps are used to prevent air leaks and reduce aerophagia symptoms that result from swallowing air. Since it helps keep a person’s mouth closed during sleep. 

Heated tubes are used to avoid condensation of water, which can cause water dripping. 

Mask liners are used generally to reduce skin irritation, just like petroleum-free moisturizers can help to keep healthy skin. To learn more about CPAP accessories, visit our blog

Choose the right mask

Different masks come in a variety of styles and sizes, so when it comes to personal preference, choosing one that is comfortable enough with an effective seal that does not allow air leakage is possible. There are different types of masks

Nasal masks 

It fit over your nose, providing a comfortable, less direct pressure delivery. They are generally more accepted by users who need a higher-pressure setting. On the other hand, they can irritate the bridge of the nose and cause discomfort for those with frequent allergies and sinus infections

Nasal pillow masks 

It seal just below the nose and have two silicone pillows or cushions inserted into the nostrils, delivering air pressure directly into the nasal passage. It is not the best option for those requiring high-pressure settings or having nasal allergies. 

Full face masks 

It cover your nose and mouth with cushions typically in the shape of a triangle and are held in place by a headgear. These masks are an excellent option for mouth breathers, those who find the nasal cushion irritating, or those who haven't succeeded with a nasal mask. But it definitely is not the best option for those who suffer from claustrophobia

Remember that the most important points are to select a mask that supplies pressurized air directly where you breathe in (mouth or nose) and to avoid mask leaks

Clean your CPAP mask

Because CPAP devices are the medium through which the pressurized air reaches your mouth and nostrils, cleaning your mask and tubing system is required to prevent respiratory infections and allergies.

All sleep medicine doctors suggest cleaning the mask, water chamber, tubes, etc, should become a regular part of your routine. This will prevent the buildup of any kind of bacteria or fungi.

If your CPAP has a humidifier, then it should be cleaned on a daily basis. Use a mild soap solution to clean it; the same goes for the CPAP mask.

Ideally, the routine should be followed every week at least once. However, these cleaning schedules can be exhausting for a patient - especially a busy one. Luckily, sanitizing machines catered towards CPAP machines are available in the market. You can always purchase one of those machines if it becomes too much.

Woman using CPAP Soap

Steer away from oily items

As mentioned earlier, the buildup of oil on your face can give rise to rashes. In general, it’s advisable to stay away from any kind of oily products.Before using a CPAP mask, your face should be cleaned thoroughly with a face wash. Don’t apply any kind of face cream after that.

If you decide to use moisturizer even while wearing the CPAP mask, the masks must be cleaned daily to avoid any buildup of germs. The moisturizer in your face seeps into the mask and clings to the mask. If you don’t wash it, it will continue to do so. 

Adjusting CPAP Pressure to Prevent CPAP Therapy Side Effects

Even if the right CPAP pressure for an individual is determined during a sleep study, most of the time, these pressure levels may need to be adjusted to reduce the onset of the previously mentioned side effects.

Pressure settings tend to change over time. If you gain/lose weight or your symptoms change, consult your doctor or contact one of our sleep specialists for assistance.

Remember that appropriate CPAP pressure settings are important to ensure the device can effectively treat OSA, so always ask your healthcare provider

Here is a list of some things to consider: 

Addressing high humidity symptoms

If your humidity level is too high, water can collect in your hose, gurgling or splashing onto your face and waking you up in the middle of the night. Find a balance where you don’t get a dry mouth or nose but avoid the excess humidity.

Finding the correct pressure

The pressure level input on your CPAP machine should be prescribed by your doctor. Check and double-check to make sure there hasn’t been a mistake.

However, a patient can experience discomfort even after using the correct pressure. They either feel the pressure is way higher than it should be, experience trouble breathing, or unintentionally end up gulping down the air.

This calls for a consultation with the doctor - whether the pressure settings should be readjusted and whether a lower or higher pressure would suit your current state.

New pressure setting

Did you have a big lifestyle change recently? Did you recently heal from a chronic disease, or did it get worse? Was there a sudden fluctuation in your weight? Are you trying to quit smoking or drinking?

Any of these cases can trigger your primary obstructive sleep apnea condition to rear its head. In this case, a new pressure setting might be the solution.

Since you are still operating on your older pressure setting and it’s failing to suit your current health condition, it can result in side effects.

Use the Ramp of your machine

Regardless of whether you are experiencing side effects or not, using the ramp of your machine might be an excellent idea.

This setting allows the air pressure to begin at a lower level and then up to the final pressure set on the CPAP machine.

This could eliminate a number of side effects as you get more comfortable with the CPAP mask. Your mask feels less foreign on your skin as you grow used to its effect.

Positive Effects of CPAP Machines

Although CPAP therapy includes common side effects, you will also enjoy positive effects from positive airway pressure (PAP). 

Increased energy

CPAP promotes higher oxygen levels in the blood, reducing daytime tiredness.   

Reduces blood pressure

OSA can lead to secondary arterial hypertension. Luckily, CPAP tends to vanish all the symptoms and problems caused by sleep apnea, and the majority of patients refer to a lower pressure just after a few weeks of treatment.

Easier weight loss

Sleep apnea raises cortisol levels (stress hormone), and this can lead to obesity if it is not properly treated. CPAP is capable of normalizing these hormonal changes. 

Increased partner satisfaction

Snoring will decrease when you use the machine, helping your bedside partner enjoy a quiet night.

Enhanced respiratory function

Better oxygenation is important in keeping the airway open and healthy.

Improved sleep quality

Sleeping without respiratory interruptions is indispensable to complete all the NREM and REM phases of the dreaming cycle, having a positive effect on mood and memory.

Sleeplay helps you get the perfect CPAP machine to perform your treatment properly. Click here to learn more about them.

Gustavo Fernández

Medically reviewed: Gustavo Fernandez

Advanced medical student at the Central University of Venezuela. He has experience as a clinical observer in The Division of Respiratory Medicine at St. Paul's Hospital and participated in research related to respiratory diseases at the University of British Columbia (Canada).

Read more

Join the conversation!, login and comment.

Get Our Free E-book

Get your guide to understanding sleep apnea, adjusting to CPAP machines, and choosing the right masks for your needs.