Why CPAP Therapy Adherence Should Be a Top Priority
While CPAP therapy can go a long way in alleviating the symptoms and long-term health consequences of sleep apnea, many find it somewhat difficult to adapt to using a CPAP machine and mask.
Whether you find the machine to be noisy or feel claustrophobic while wearing your mask, there are many minor issues that can cause someone to not be fully compliant in the use of their CPAP equipment.
Taking off your mask in the middle of the night may not seem like a big deal, but it will ultimately result in you continuing to experience symptoms of sleep apnea, negating the potential effectiveness of your treatment.
In many ways, getting used to CPAP therapy is just like getting started with any other healthy activity, like exercise or a new diet. It may take some getting used to, but if you stick with it, it will become a habit that will improve your life for the better.
Here is a closer look at why you should make CPAP therapy a priority, as well as how you can make it easier to remain compliant with your proposed treatment plan.
The Risks of Sleep Apnea
The potential health hazards of untreated sleep apnea are well-documented, and surprisingly wide ranging. However, they all stem from the same issue: fatigue that is caused by frequently interrupted sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the throat muscles relax during sleep, temporarily blocking off the airway. This causes breathing to stop and start throughout the night, waking up the individual who suffers from sleep apnea and increasing the body’s stress levels. Depending on the severity of the condition, these incidents can occur over 30 times in a single hour, yet the sleeper will likely not even remember waking up the next day.
That such events will result in excessive fatigue is a given, but long-term, the consequences can be even more dire. Sleep apnea has been linked with high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and excessive headaches, as well as an increased risk for heart failure and stroke. It has also been found to lead to worsening ADHD symptoms and contribute to unhealthy weight gain.
Many of these conditions act in a vicious cycle with sleep apnea. As these conditions grow worse, so too does the frequency of sleep apnea events.
Even before such dire consequences are experienced, excess fatigue can harm physical and mental function throughout the day. This will negatively affect performance at school or work, while also increasing the risk of car crashes or other accidents.
The Benefits of a CPAP Machine
While these negative health consequences are quite alarming, undergoing CPAP therapy has been found to directly counteract these outcomes. By providing a steady flow of air pressure that is delivered to the throat, a CPAP machine will keep the airways from collapsing. Proper CPAP use can entirely eliminate incidences of sleep apnea, and as a result, will also protect users from other long-term health problems.
Studies have directly supported CPAP’s effectiveness in helping those with sleep apnea. From making it easier for overweight individuals to lose weight to combating depression, CPAP treatment’s effectiveness in fighting sleep apnea will drastically improve quality of life for those who use it.
Better still, it doesn’t take long for CPAP users to start experiencing these benefits. Many experience an elimination of excess fatigue as soon as they start using their equipment, and studies say that it typically only takes about two weeks for the full effect of therapy to set in.
As enjoyable as the initial relief from symptoms of fatigue can be, the long-term outcomes are what matter most. As you also enact other healthy changes in your life, such as making exercise a priority or quitting alcohol or tobacco use, you will continually improve your sleep quality and achieve greater overall health results.
While the use of a CPAP machine can have rapid results, many patients fail to experience these benefits because of their difficulty in adjusting to the new equipment. It may only take a few weeks to experience the full benefits of the therapy when you are fully compliant with your treatment, but many struggle for months as they try to adjust to this new routine.
Common Treatment Compliance Challenges
The issues that keep people from adhering to their CPAP treatment plan are not difficult to pinpoint.
Writing for the National Sleep Foundation, Charles J. Atwood, Jr., MD explains, “Most patients will encounter side-effects from the CPAP machine at some point in their experience with it. The most common CPAP side-effects are mask or pressure related. Some patients will experience claustrophobia to the CPAP mask. Some patients will develop nasal congestion while others may experience rhinitis or a runny nose. While CPAP side-effects are a nuisance, serious side-effects are very uncommon.”
Issues with the mask or equipment can cause CPAP treatment to feel uncomfortable, increasing a users’ likelihood of stopping their treatment. A mask that is too small or large may be more prone to slipping off during the night. Over-tightening the mask can cause skin irritation. Some find a continuous flow of pressurized air to be uncomfortable, particularly during exhalation or while trying to fall asleep.
Though serious side effects are rare, those who experience unpleasant symptoms as a result of their CPAP therapy will be more likely to quit. For example, someone with improper pressure settings could experience aerophagia, in which air from the CPAP device goes into the stomach, where it causes bloating and gas pain.
Still others may find that using their CPAP device causes their nasal passages to dry out or become more congested. While these symptoms tend to come and go, such recurring issues could very easily discourage someone from sticking with a proposed CPAP treatment plan.
Whether the issue stems from uncomfortable equipment or a few unpleasant side effects, these inconveniences often cause patients to quit their sleep apnea treatment altogether. When this happens, they miss out on the vital long-term benefits of treatment adherence and put themselves at risk for more serious problems later on.
If you are struggling getting used to CPAP treatment, this doesn’t mean the therapy isn’t for you. There are many solutions available to improve the comfort and effectiveness of sleep apnea therapy so you can better adhere to your treatment program.
Making it Easier to Adjust
Here is a breakdown of how you can address some of the most common issues that prevent proper CPAP therapy adherence:
- Improper Mask Fit: You should consult with your doctor prior to ordering your CPAP equipment to determine which type of CPAP mask will be best suited for your needs. Masks are available in multiple sizes to accommodate different face shapes — it never hurts to double check your measurements to ensure you are getting the right size. Smaller masks are also available for women. Several mask styles are also available, with different varieties better suited to different sleep habits. For example, a full face mask is an absolute must if you regularly breathe through your mouth during the night. For those who don’t require as high of pressure settings and want to reduce feelings of claustrophobia, nasal pillows (which insert directly into the nostrils) could be a better fit. If your mask is too tight or prone to air leaks, you may be better served by switching to a different mask. You may have to try a few different mask varieties before you settle on the most comfortable option.
- Uncomfortable Air Pressure Settings: Air pressure that is too high or low is the most common culprit behind aerophagia. However, high air pressure can also make it difficult for CPAP users to fall asleep. The continuous air pressure delivery system used by CPAP machines can also make exhalation uncomfortable for some users. Those who have trouble sleeping because of high pressure settings will typically benefit from using a CPAP device with an auto ramp feature. This system gradually increases the air pressure over time so that you don’t receive the maximum pressure setting until you are already asleep. Switching to a BiPAP device may also be beneficial for some users. These machines reduce how much air pressure is delivered during exhalation, ensuring more comfortable breathing. If such changes fail to address the problem, you may need to consult with your doctor to find another solution.
- Nasal Irritation: Many modern CPAP and BiPAP devices come with a humidifier, which warms and moistens the air before it is delivered through your mask. This makes it more comfortable to breathe while using the CPAP device, and greatly reduces the likelihood of throat or nose irritation. Of course, to enjoy these benefits, you need to activate your humidifier at night! For best results, you should use distilled water in the humidifier to prevent mineral buildup and wash out the humidifier chamber every day to stop bacterial growth. The more comfortable your air, the easier it will be to stick with your treatment.
- Claustrophobia & General Discomfort: Many who have trouble adhering to CPAP therapy simply find wearing a mask to be uncomfortable. The mask may be a perfect fit, but wearing a mask while you sleep can induce feelings of claustrophobia. In the previously cited article from Dr. Atwood, he gave very specific advice on how to deal with this common issue: “If mask claustrophobia is interfering with your becoming comfortable with CPAP, try desensitization training. The goal of this is to get you so accustomed to the CPAP mask and pressure, that you forget it’s on your face. Start with short periods of time while awake and doing something that is distracting – such as watching television. Gradually increase the time you wear CPAP. Continue using CPAP while sleeping while you desensitize to it while awake. Start with 10 minutes and build up from there. Set goals for yourself. Just as you would train for an athletic event, train yourself to use CPAP. Start with 2 hours per night. Add another 30 minutes per week until you are sleeping with it all night long.”
Becoming fully compliant with your CPAP treatment plan may take some time. But as you stick with it and work to overcome the obstacles that are keeping you from adhering to your therapy, you will begin to experience higher-quality sleep on a regular basis. From being less irritable when interacting with others to improving performance at work, these changes will make a meaningful difference in your life.
Getting used to undergoing CPAP therapy each night may take some getting used to for you and your partner. But even if you initially find a mask to be uncomfortable or need to switch to a BiPAP machine, the most important thing is to not give up on your treatment.
The temporary inconveniences that you will overcome by sticking with your therapy plan will only bother you for a short time. Constant fatigue, high blood pressure, and other devastating consequences of untreated sleep apnea could harm you for the rest of your life, and possibly even shorten it.
With Help Medical Supplies, you don’t have to worry about the cost of equipment keeping you from getting the therapy you need, either. We offer CPAP machines, masks, and more from top brands like Philips Respironics and ResMed at significant discounts from what you would pay elsewhere.
In addition to discounted pricing, we also offer free shipping on all orders over $89, as well as generous financing options that allow you to break your purchase into affordable monthly payments. This way, even if your insurance policy does not fully cover CPAP treatment, the equipment you need will not be more than you can afford.
Getting a good night’s sleep is no trivial matter. By investing in the right CPAP equipment for your needs and then adhering to the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, you will enjoy lasting improvements to your health that will completely change your life. Place your order today so you can start this invaluable transformation!