The Best CPAP Masks

Derived from the Greek word apnoia, or “without breath”, sleep apnea is the involuntary cessation of breathing during the night.

When a sleep apnea episode occurs, the sleeper either experiences obstructed breathing (referred to as hypopnea) and/or stops breathing entirely (referred to as apnea). Sleep apnea episodes can last 10 seconds or more and occur hundreds of time during the night.

There are three primary types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway is obstructed by a physical impediment, typically the collapse of tissue in the back of the throat.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA) arises when the brain fails to transmit signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea, or “mixed sleep apnea”, is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy can be an effective method of treatment for all types of sleep apnea, but is considered the best therapy for OSA.

CPAP therapy is delivered through a CPAP machine, a device that sends a constant flow of pressurized air through the airway to prevent the throat from collapsing. The CPAP generator works by drawing air from the room and pressurizing it to a prescribed level. A hose then transports the pressurized air from the generator to a mask attached to the user’s face or nostrils.

An improperly fitted mask can cause leaks, noise, eye irritation, and difficulty sleeping. Choosing a mask that suits the sleeper’s sleep habits, breathing requirements, and comfort preferences is essential to effective CPAP therapy.  

Types of CPAP Masks

There are more than 20 million Americans affected by sleep apnea, and they all have different head shapes, sleeping positions, and pressure needs. To accommodate the massive, diverse body of sleep apnea sufferers, there are hundreds CPAP masks of different styles, materials, sizes, shapes, and prices.

CPAP masks are classified into one of three categories:

1. Nasal CPAP Masks

Sometimes referred to as oronasal or nasal cradle masks, nasal CPAP masks deliver oxygen exclusively to the nasal passage. These masks are typically are shaped like a triangular dome and cover the entire nose from the bridge to the upper lip.

Though nasal masks come in a variety of sizes and fits, most include the following parts:

  • Frame. The frame refers to the mask element that fills with oxygen to be inhaled through the nasal passages.
  • Cushion. The cushion of a nasal mask runs along the edge of the frame to reduce pressure and enhance comfort. Made of silicone, foam, gel, or fabric , most cushions are designed to be replaced every three months or so.
  • Elbow port. This right angle-shaped port connects the frame to the hose.
  • Headgear. Headgear refers to the straps of the mask, which fasten behind the head to secure the mask to the face. These straps are typically made of fabric or silicone. Nasal masks typically have two straps: one running along the jaw and another around the forehead that connects to the lower strap from behind the ears.

Nasal masks are often prescribed to users who breathe through their noses. Ideal for side sleepers, stomach sleepers, and sleepers who toss and turn during the night, nasal masks let you sleep in virtually any position comfortably without knocking the frame askew.

In addition, health care professionals may prescribe nasal masks to users with high pressure needs, since these masks deliver airflow indirectly, allowing for a more natural breathing experience even at higher pressure rates.

Pros
  • Indirect airflow creates more natural breathing experience for all pressure levels.
  • Wide variety of different fits and styles, including him and her designs.
  • Can accommodate side and stomach sleepers, as well as sleepers who tend to toss and turn during the night.
  • Generally less expensive than other varieties of CPAP masks.
Cons

2. Nasal Pillow CPAP Masks

The lightest, most compact type of CPAP mask, nasal pillows cover the nostrils rather than the entire nose. Nasal plugs seal the openings of the nostrils or nares to deliver pressurized air directly into the nose.

Nasal pillow CPAP generally include the following components:

  • Nosepiece. The nosepiece or frame consists of two nare plugs linked by a vertical pillow or cushion
  • Nasal cushions. The nasal cushion holds the nare plugs comfortably and securely in place. Cushions may be made of silicone, foam, gel, or fabric, and usually need to be replaced every few months.
  • Headgear. Headgear typically consists of one strap that runs below the nostrils and fastens behind the ears.

As with nasal CPAP masks, nasal pillow masks are ideal for nose breathers and sleepers who shift positions a lot. They’re also a solid option for users with facial hair, which can cause leaks in other varieties of masks.

Nasal pillow masks are typically prescribed to patients who require low to moderate pressure levels. Because airflow is channelled directly into the nostrils, nasal pillows may be uncomfortable for patients with high pressure needs.

Pros
  • Most lightweight and compact of all CPAP masks.
  • Wide variety of different fits and styles, including him and her designs.
  • Can accommodate side and stomach sleepers, as well as sleepers who tend to toss and turn during the night.
  • Provides clear field of vision so users can read, watch TV, and wear glasses before falling asleep.
  • Minimizes leaks by delivering airflow directly into the nostrils.
  • Leaves minimal marks on the face from frame or straps.
Cons

3. Full Face CPAP Masks

While nasal and nasal pillow masks deliver airflow exclusively through the nose, full face CPAP masks supply air through both the nose and mouth. Full face masks are available in different shapes and sizes, but tend to be larger and bulkier than the other two varieties of CPAP masks.

Generally, full face CPAP are designed with the following components:

  • Frame. The frame, or breathing apparatus, fits over the user’s nose and mouth.
  • Cushion. The cushion lines the edges of the frame, creating a seal against the face that is both airtight and comfortable. Cushions may be made from silicone, foam, gel, or fabric, and typically need to be replaced.
  • Elbow port. The elbow port connects the mask to the hose. Many designs can rotate to allow sleepers to move more freely while remaining securely connected to the hose.
  • Headgear. The straps of full face masks usually run across the jaw and connect at the back of the neck. Many designs include additional straps around the forehead that connect in the back.

Full face masks may be prescribed to users who tend to breathe through their mouth, or have issues with congestion or allergies. This type of CPAP is best suited to back sleepers, as its bulky design makes sleeping on the side or stomach a challenge. Full face masks are compatible for all pressure levels.

Pros
  • Indirect airflow creates more natural breathing experience for all pressure levels.
  • Wide variety of different fits and styles, including him and her designs.
  • Some sleepers find them less intrusive, since they touch the outside of the face rather than the nose, upper lip, or nostrils.
Cons

Nasal CPAP Masks vs. Full Face CPAP masks vs. Nasal Pillows

Nasal CPAP Mask Nasal Pillow CPAP Mask Full Face CPAP Mask
Areas coveredNose and mouthNose - from the bridge of the nose to the upper lip and nostrils Nose - nostrils only
HeadgearJaw and head strapsSingle strap beneath nostrilsJaw straps and forehead support straps
Mode of air deliveryIndirect - air fills the frame and is inhaled through the noseDirect - air is delivered into nostrilsIndirect - air fills the frame and is inhaled through the nose and/or mouth
Ideal pressure levelLow to highLow to mediumLow to high
Ideal sleep positionBack or sideBack, side, or stomachBack
Ideal breathing methodNose breathing Nose breathing Nose and mouth breathing
Size availabilityXS, small, medium, large, XL, universal; male and female models available XS, small, medium, large, XL, universal; male and female models available Small, medium, and large; male and female models available
Average price$100 to $150$60 to $130$80 to $100

Choosing the best type of CPAP mask for you

Finding the right CPAP is crucial to the success of your therapy and comfort of your sleep experience. To determine whether a nasal, nasal pillow, or full face CPAP mask is right for you, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Breathing Habits

Do you tend to breathe with you mouth or nose at night? You can often tell if you’re a mouth breather if you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth. If you aren’t sure, you can ask a partner to observe your breathing while you’re sleeping.

A full face CPAP mask may be best if you tend to breathe through your mouth or both your nose and mouth when you sleep, though some models of nasal masks include straps designed to keep the jaw closed.

Allergies

Nasal and nasal pillow CPAP masks work best with open, unobstructed nasal passages. If you suffer from allergies or other types of congestion, a full face mask may be your best option, since it can deliver air through your mouth during times when your nose is congested.

Sleep Position

Because of its bulkier design, the full face CPAP mask is only a viable option if you sleep on your back. If you sleep on your side or stomach, or tend to shift positions during the night, a nasal or nasal pillow will allow you to sleep comfortably without knocking your mask out of place.

Pressure Needs

Those who require higher levels of pressure may find that nasal and full face masks are most comfortable. Alternatively, nasal pillows are better suited for those with low to moderate pressure levels because they deliver pressurized air directly into the nostrils.

Comfort

Comfort preferences are key considerations when choosing a CPAP mask. Some sleepers find a full face mask constricting and prefer a mask that only touches the bridge of the nose and upper lip or the nostrils. Others may find that nasal and nasal pillows irritate the nostrils, and prefer a mask that only touches the surface of their face.

Facial Hair

Large amounts and certain styles of facial hair can cause leakage in full face and nasal masks. If you have facial hair, a nasal pillow might be your best bet.

Bedtime Rituals

Do you tend to watch TV or read before falling asleep? Full face masks can make these activities difficult, while nasal and nasal pillow CPAP masks allow you to see clearly and wear glasses more comfortably.

The Best Nasal CPAP Masks

Manufacturer and model: ResMed Swift FXFisher & Paykel Opus 360ResMed AirFit P10Philips Respironics DreamWearResMed Ultra Mirage II
Type: Nasal pillow Nasal pillow Nasal pillow NasalNasal
Sizes: Small, medium, and large pillows included Small, medium, and large pillows included Small, medium, and large pillows included Small, medium, medium wide, and large pillows included; small, medium, and large masks available Standard, shallow, shallow wide, large
“For her” sizes?YesNoYesNoNo
Small and wide sizes?YesYesNoYesYes
Headgear:Silicone jaw strap Latex-free jaw strap Elastic fabric jaw strapPolyurethane foam/spandex jaw strap Breath-O-Prene jaw and head straps
Headgear closure:Cinchable strapsHook and loopCinchable strapsHook and loopHook and loop
Cushion:Silicone Silicone Silicone Silicone Silicone
Customer rating:92% (1,298 customer reviews) 89% (522 customer reviews) 96% (897 customer reviews) 95% (909 customer reviews) 91% (754 customer reviews)
Price (est):$128$60$99$169$99

The Best Full Face CPAP Masks

Manufacturer and model:ResMed Mirage QuattroFisher & Paykel SimplusResMed AirTouch F20Fisher & Paykel FlexiFit HC431
Sizes: XS, small, medium, and large Small, medium, and large Small, medium, and large Small, medium, and large pillows included
“For her” sizes?NoNoYesNo
Headgear:Jaw and forehead support strapsJaw and forehead support strapsJaw and cheek strapsJaw and forehead support straps
Headgear closure:ClipsClipsMagnetic clipsClips
Cushion:SiliconeSiliconeMemory foamSilicone
Customer rating:90% (561 customer reviews) 89% (393 customer reviews) 93% (65 customer reviews) 91% (566 customer reviews)
Price (est):$145$135$154$95

Takeaways

In the end, there is no “best CPAP mask” -- your ideal mask is one that works best with your unique facial structure, sleeping habits, and pressure needs while maximizing your comfort. To determine the right CPAP mask for you, it’s a good idea to start by consulting with your doctor. From there, it’s a matter of taking a close look at your habits and comfort preferences and trying out different styles to learn what works best for you.

 

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