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Now you're just a CPAP mask I used to know...

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Holy crap you guys, I just had a really good night's sleep.

That doesn't sound like much, but when you've got sleep apnea, it's a big freaking deal.

I wrote about my initial experiences with a CPAP machine (and made a recording of the wave-machine like sound it typically makes now) back in 2010.  I've tried a few different masks since then, and the one I just used last night has to be my favorite so far.

Whether you're looking at this as someone who needs a CPAP mask, a significant other of someone who uses one, or just curious, I hope this quick overview of a few types of masks (and reviews) helps!

Please note: All images and links are from CPAP.com.  They've been my go-to supplier for parts, masks, and more for years. Great people, good customer service. Highly recommended. I've also used all of these masks over the years, so these are my personal experience.

The "Profile Lite Gel" mask from Phillips is probably similar to most "default" masks that you get when you first get your machine. This is the kind of mask I was using when I made the recording of myself using a CPAP. It's a strong, durable kind of mask. While the straps slowly stretch with use, that's true of any mask. The major downsides of this kind of mask are leakage around the eyes or sides, and problems if you don't sleep on your back. The protruding front hose attachment pushes the mask to the side if you turn your head, and can cause leaks.


And the red spot on your forehead.  See that blue bit? That helps stabilize the mask so it stays straight on your head... but also means you might end up with a pressure mark on your forehead.

There are other masks - like this Aclaim 2 from Fisher and Paykel - that try to solve the problem. The forehead stabilizer is a wider design so it doesn't create as much of a mark. Both the over-the-head hose design and the sliding lower strap attachment are supposed to help keep the seal intact if you turn on your side.

The problem - and we'll see this again - is that the lighter construction of the side attachments mean that it's easier to break. And when those are broken... it's broke. That's one reason why I usually have one of the "default" masks on hand at any point, even if it's not what I usually use.

That's also the problem with what (was) my default home mask for a while - the Breeze SleepGear from Puritan Bennett.

Yup, we've lost the over-nose attachment completely for nasal pillows. This means that not only is the seal easier to maintain, but with the over-head tubing I could sleep on my side or stomach again without any difficulty. That was a huge thing for me, and made me a fan and repeat customer for years. There were two big problems with it. First, my hair is... well, thick and often longish. The strap design is less than ideal for people with thick shifting hair. I could deal with that.

The other problem is that I travel to conventions... and if you're thinking that design looks thin and not very collapsible, you'd be absolutely right. That design does not fit in bags well, and again, once it breaks... it's freaking broken. So less than ideal for travel, and requires that you have a backup mask handy.

Over head version
What is ideal for travel are the SleepWeaver series from Circadiance. (Over head strap version, side of head strap version) These are cloth masks - I think it's made from a variant of Goretex, but that's a guess.

They are super light, and are easy to stuff into a bag with your machine. They puff up against your face with the CPAP pressure, which is what makes the seal. They are okay when it comes to maintaining that seal if you turn from side to side.

Do not machine wash these. One got into the laundry by mistake, and it was completely useless afterward.

Side-strap version
There's three drawbacks to this style of mask - one of which mostly impacts the side-strap version. First, because there's no volume to the material until the pressure's on, they actually feel slightly claustrophobic until the machine is started. Once you're going, it's all good.

But if you're used to a machine that automatically turns on (mine will after three inhalations), that will not work with a cloth mask. You'll have to manually hit the button. Seems like a small thing, but it's disconcerting if you're not expecting it.

And finally, the side strap version (which maintains a better seal, IMHO) has a problem simply because it doesn't have a firm frame. Which side is up? How does this tangle of straps and material fit on my face? Folks who have roomed with me at cons have laughed more than once at my flipping it back and forth to get it right.

Which brings us to what I just tried last night - the Aloha nasal pillow mask from InnoMed/RespCare. So far, this seems to combine a lot of my favorite aspects for a home mask. The straps are light, but maintained a decent pressure despite my hair. It's a nasal pillow mask, but without the over-head plastic bit (which is what always broke for me on the Breeze), I should have fewer problems. I actually had my face buried in a pillow at one point with no problem at all.

I don't know that it's a good travel mask - the parts that cross the cheekbones are semi-rigid plastic (though nicely padded), so I'm worried about breaking those if I were to shove them in a bag. But for a home mask? I'm definitely a fan - it has all the benefits of the Breeze but without the drawbacks.

Do you (or someone you know) use a CPAP? Have you tried any of these masks, or do you have another favorite I've not tried yet?

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