Many CPAP side effects or complications result from ill-fitting masks which leak air. However, it is not recommended to make adjustments to the machine yourself, as the device is a prescribed treatment and should only be adjusted under the direction of a healthcare professional.
Having a correctly fitted mask is essential, as a leaking mask can cause air pressure changes and lessen the effect of your therapy.
Who needs to use the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure(CPAP) machine?
A CPAP machine is one of the two treatment options for sleep apnoea sufferers. It uses a hose attached to a mask, which is worn over the nose and mouth and delivers constant air at a steady pressure to assist with breathing.
The CPAP machine is mostly indicated for those people with the severest forms of sleep apnoea, and particularly if they are also significantly overweight and have a history of heart disease, blood pressure problems or diabetes. If you are not in this category the other main treatment for sleep apnoea is a custom made oral appliance that is far more comfortable, easy to use, and just as effective.
There can be a number of side effects associated with the CPAP machine, however many of these can be overcome with the help of an experienced CPAP therapist
The 8 Common side effects when using CPAP machines
Below are some side effects commonly experienced by sleep apnoea sufferers using a CPAP machine, including long-term side effects.
1. Dry Mouth
If you sleep with your mouth open, some CPAP machines that only cover the nose may worsen dry mouth. The machines covering the mouth and nose can still cause a dry mouth because the pressurised air escapes the mouth when you breathe.
2. Dry eyes
If the mask is not fitted correctly, air can leak out around the edges, especially as you change positions during sleep. The air can blow into your eyes during the night and cause dry, irritated eyes in the morning.
If the mask is not cleaned correctly, bacteria trapped under the mask can be forced up into your eyes either by air leak or through the tear ducts, which may cause an eye infection.
Headaches can occur if the mask is too tight or the air pressure is too high. The constant pressure on the nasal wall can cause inflammation and blocked sinuses, worsening the headache.
4. Shortness of breath
The CPAP machine is designed to ensure you get enough air while sleeping. However, it can induce a feeling of shortness of breath, particularly if you’re not accustomed to wearing the mask or the sensation of the air pressure.
While wearing the mask, many CPAP users experience claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). Some patients may even experience a panic attack. This is because the mask tightly covers the nose, giving the feeling of suffocation. The feeling is worse for those using devices that cover both the mouth and nose.
You will need to get used to the feeling of the mask over your nose during the day to ensure the mask and headgear are correctly fitted and to lessen the claustrophobic reaction.
This is the medical term used for swallowing air. If the air pressure of the CPAP machine is too high, it can make its way to the gastrointestinal system causing abdominal pain, discomfort, excessive gas, and bloating.
7. General discomfort when breathing
When first using a CPAP machine, it can be difficult to breathe out against the air pressure, although it is relatively easy to breathe in. The dry, cold air flowing through the machine can also cause a burning sensation in the lungs.
It may take some time to get used to sleeping with the machine, and the air pressure may need to be adjusted if you cannot adjust to sleeping with it. Some patients report suffering from insomnia due to uncomfortable breathing.
8. Nasal congestion
The flow of dry, pressurised air can cause the feeling of a stuffy or runny nose, including a burning sensation, irritation, and even nose bleeds. This side-effect can be particularly common for people with frequent sinus infections.
Mold and dust can also enter the mask and hose, causing allergic reactions.
The long-term side effects of using a CPAP machine
Besides the side effects mentioned above, CPAP machine usage can also cause rashes, sores, or even ulcers due to the mask being too tight and rubbing against the same spot on the face regularly. Long-term side effects of CPAP usage include:
- Breathing in toxic gases – some CPAP machines that use polyutherane foam can break down and release toxic gases.
- Reduced face growth – children who use a CPAP machine long-term can develop facial deformities as the headgear and face mask pressure can interfere with facial development.
- Middle ear pressure and pain – long-term use may cause pain and discomfort in the middle ear due to the pressure exerted by the CPAP machine.
- Tooth problems – the forward thrusting of the tongue due to CPAP use can contribute to teeth moving and shifting. Also, using a chin-strap to close the mouth can cause teeth to chip.
- No improvement in sleep apnoea – Faulty CPAP machines, in general, can have severe consequences for your health in the same way as untreated sleep apnoea, as it lessens the effect of the therapy.
Getting the right diagnosis is essential in treating sleep apnoea. At Sleepwise Clinic you can take a free, online sleep apnoea test as the first step. You can also use our free online resources to know more and get the right advice in treating this condition.
- Ghadiri, M, Grunstein, R, 2020, ‘Clinical side effects of continuous positive airway pressure in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea’. Official Journal of the Asian Pacific Society of Repirology, <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/resp.13808>.
- CPAP machines: Tips for avoiding 10 common problems, Mayo Clinic, <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/in-depth/cpap/art-20044164>.
- Summer, J, Common CPAP Side Effects, Sleep Foundation, <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/cpap/cpap-side-effects>.
- The Long-Term Side Effects You May Experience After Using a Faulty Sleep Apnea Device, Atraxia Law, <https://www.atraxialaw.com/news/long-term-side-effects-defective-sleep-apnea-device/>.