Search And Destroy: Soothing Skin Irritation From CPAP Masks

If you've been diagnosed with sleep apnea and told to use a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP machine, be prepared for a few possible side effects. Skin irritation is a rather common side effect, but it can go beyond just a little redness. If skin irritation is ignored for too long, it can result in pressure sores and infections. Here are some ways to find out what's causing the irritation, as well as some ways to eliminate it.  

Check Your Skin Cream

If you use any sort of skin cream at night, look closely at the ingredients. If the cream contains a petroleum product, like petroleum jelly, stop using it. Sometimes petroleum jelly can cause the pad on the CPAP mask to deteriorate, making it rougher. That can literally rub your skin the wrong way and cause sores.

Clear up Oily Skin

Whether you use a cream or not, if you have oily skin, that can make the mask move around a bit and not adhere too well. Again, that can irritate your skin. washing your face before going to sleep may help.

Verify Allergies

If the irritation is really a case of hives produced due to allergies, you have some detective work ahead of you. Find out the composition of the mask's pads (all silicone, or part latex) and get an allergy test done for those. If you've started treating the irritation with a topical antibacterial medication containing neomycin, you might have developed an allergy to the neomycin itself. Switch to another topical medicine that does not contain neomycin; if the sores or irritation clear up, then you likely have a neomycin allergy. You'll have to check with an allergist to be sure, though.

Check the Mask Placement and Fit

Go back to your doctor with the mask and ask the doctor to show you proper fit again. It could be you have the wrong size mask or have been making the straps too tight. If you've lost or gained a lot of weight, this can also affect mask fit because your face will become thinner or thicker.

Check Other Procedures

It could be the CPAP mask is not for you. If the cause of your apnea can be pinpointed, you can try treating the cause. For example, if the apnea is caused by your tonsils, a tonsillectomy may help clear up the condition. There are several alternatives to CPAP masks--such as a sleep apnea procedure--so talk to a sleep doctor about ways to open up your airways without the mask.