Mouth Breathing on CPAP

Tracy R. Nasca

Were you born a mouth breather, or did you develop mouth breathing as a result of having untreated sleep apnea?

Some people always have been and always will be mouth breathers due to their anatomical make up. Some of us lack muscle tone causing the jaw to drop. Others have chronic nasal congestion from allergies or other nasal anomalies and if one cannot breathe well through the nose, it may unconsciously forces us to mouth breathe.

There is a large population of people who became mouth breathers with the onset of sleep apnea. When an apnea episode occurs, we stop breathing. As our oxygen levels dip, it sends the brain in to a panic to breathe resulting in the loud snore, and sudden gasp to gulp in air as quickly as possible. When apnea events occur fast and furious all during the night, we often develop the habit of sleeping with our mouths open to accommodate the need for oxygen.

Mouth breathing in newly diagnosed sleep apnea patients is so prevalent that many sleep doctors start all of their patients on CPAP therapy with a full face mask. Most patients that weren’t born mouth breathers quickly relearn how to sleep with their mouths closed within a few weeks or months of CPAP treatment. They can then exchange a full face mask for a traditional nasal mask or nasal pillow mask if they so choose.

Full face masks can be more challenging due to their sheer size. A larger mask frame and cushion creates the greater possibility of leak simply because there is more surface area for potential leak. A mouth breather on CPAP has 2 choices, a full face mask or a traditional nasal mask/nasal pillow mask with the addition of a chin strap.

To help reduce mask leak – remember to do your final fit and adjustment while laying in bed in your normal sleeping position. So, when it’s bedtime, sit on your bed and place mask on your face with straps loose. Turn on machine so the air is blowing and then lay down with your head on the pillow the way you would naturally sleep. This is when you slowly tighten the straps just until you get a good seal. With a full face mask, leak is often more prevalent in the top portion of the mask and allows air to be blown in the eye area. Tighten the top straps to resolve this leak. If your leak problem is around the mouth or chin area, focus the adjustment on the bottom strap.

Remember that over tightening may seem like the best way to stop leak, but in truth it will only cause pressure point soreness or cuts on the nose bridge. If you find that you must tighten to the point of pain, you may very well have the wrong size or style for your face. No mask should ever cause pain! Your local home health supplier will be happy to help you select the best mask for your face. There are dozens of full face masks to choose from and one will be perfect for you!

The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Contact your physician or health care provider when you have health related questions. Never disregard or delay medical advice because of information you have obtained on this site.