Choosing a CPAP mask, especially for the first time, can be a daunting process. There are several CPAP mask types to pick from, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. Finding one that fits comfortably and seals well to prevent pressure loss is the best way to ensure effective therapy and develop consistent habits, and studies have shown that choosing the right type of mask for your needs is an important first step in the process. In this guide, we'll discuss each of the six types of CPAP masks, with a focus on the three most common: nasal, nasal pillow, and full face masks. Click on a style below to skip to it or keep reading to learn more about all six mask types.
- CPAP Nasal Masks
- CPAP Nasal Pillow Masks
- CPAP Full Face Masks
- Oral CPAP Masks
- Hybrid CPAP Masks
- CPAP Total Face Masks
One of the more popular CPAP mask options, CPAP nasal masks cover your nose and typically seal around the sides, base, and bridge of your nose. Adjustable straps along the side of your face or across your forehead keep the seal secure to prevent pressure loss. The tubing that connects to your machine runs out from the mask in front of your face or, in some models, up the sides of your face and over your head.
The most common issue users run into is pressure loss from opening or breathing out of their mouths overnight. Chin straps can be used to help train your body to keep your mouth shut over time. Some older models that rest on the bridge of the nose can cause irritation, but many newer models resolve this issue with a slimmer design.
Like nasal masks, CPAP nasal pillow masks deliver air through just your nose. Rather than seal around the outside of your nose, however, they have two cushions that seal underneath your nose around your nostrils to deliver air more directly. Strap styles are similar to those of conventional nasal masks, but the difference in seal means they're even lighter and slimmer in profile. As a result, nasal pillow masks are a great choice for nighttime readers, active sleepers, and those with facial hair. They're also typically the most affordable CPAP mask type.
In terms of drawbacks, some users report discomfort around their nostrils which can be exacerbated by colder weather or illness. It's not uncommon for users to own both a nasal and nasal pillow mask so they can switch between them as needed to limit irritation. Lastly, like nasal masks, a nasal pillow mask won't create a good seal if you breathe out of your mouth or tend to open it while you sleep.
Unlike the two sleep apnea mask types above, CPAP full face masks cover your nose as well as your mouth and secure around the side of your face, your cheeks, and under your chin. If you breathe out of your mouth and aren't able to break that habit, a full face mask is your best option to prevent pressure loss during therapy. They're also more effective than nasal or nasal pillow masks for users who struggle with allergies or nasal congestion and work well if you sleep on your back and don't move around much at night.
However, the larger surface area of the seal does make them harder to fit securely, especially if you have facial hair. Some users also say the size of the mask can obstruct their vision, make it difficult to wear glasses, or cause feelings of claustrophobia. Fortunately, there are more compact full face masks like the ResMed F30i, which alleviate those pain points. Based on my experience, first-time CPAP users typically adjust best to therapy by starting with a full face mask.
Though they're less common, oral CPAP masks offer more visual and physical comfort for mouth breathers because they only cover your mouth and not your nose. The number of straps is reduced as well, with just one that runs along your jaw and behind your head; instead, there is a cushion that rests inside your mouth to ensure a secure fit. We also recommend that oral mask users wear nose plugs to eliminate any pressure leakage through your nose during the night.
Similar to a full face mask, hybrid CPAP masks cover both your nose and mouth but employ the cushion design of nasal pillow masks around the nose. This makes them effective for users who switch between breathing through their nose and mouth throughout the night. The reduced profile also offers more visual freedom while eliminating potential discomfort on the bridge of the nose that can be caused by nasal and full face masks.
The last of the six common sleep apnea mask options, total face CPAP masks feature the most coverage of any mask. As the name implies, they span your entire face from below your lip to above your eyebrows, delivering air in front of your nose and mouth. They're typically best if you experience leakage underneath your eyes with full face masks and offer a more uniform seal around the entire face.
Which CPAP Mask Option is Right for You?
The right mask makes all the difference in effective therapy, so we hope this guide helps you make a more informed decision about your CPAP equipment. Choosing from the different CPAP mask types to find the right fit for you depends on several factors, so we recommend speaking with your doctor about things like your preferred sleeping position, breathing habits, and other notes that can help narrow down which style might match your needs. In the end, you may need to try several styles and models to find the right fit, but we encourage you to keep working at it and share feedback openly along the way.
If you have any questions about the masks mentioned in this article or any of our other products, please reach out to our customer service team for assistance.
About the Author
Debra J. Strelow - Clinical Manager
Debra J. Strelow is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and Licensed Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP). She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in conjunction with Rochester College’s Registry program in Respiratory Therapy. She has 35 years of experience in hospital/acute care, transitional care, and long-term care, as well as a vast knowledge of Home Respiratory Care. For the last 20 years, she has worked in Home Durable Medical Equipment (DME) clinical care as well as Home Care management. As the Virtual Respiratory Therapist for REMsafe Sleep, she provides education, virtual setup, compliance monitoring, and support to CPAP customers throughout the United States.