CPAP Masks and Skin Care – What To Know

How to Manage CPAP Mask Irritation

CPAP mask irritation is one aspect of sleep apnea treatment that virtually everyone will struggle with at some point. CPAP mask irritation is a commonly reported side effect of treatment for sleep apnea, manifesting in a variety of ways. The causes of CPAP dermatitis, CPAP mask pressure sores, and CPAP mask rash and solutions can stem from many factors including bacteria build-up, incorrect fit, or the age of the mask. Here we explain some of the most frequent CPAP mask irritation problems and how to solve them.

As sleep professionals, we get it. Adjusting to wearing a mask during sleep can be frustrating, and those with sensitive skin or who are allergic to silicone may experience some skin problems including red marks, pressure sores, rash, or dermatitis. With a bit of knowledge, you can prevent most skin problems before they occur.

CPAP mask rash: Skin irritation where the mask fits on the face can interfere with treatment compliance and ultimately overall health. Dirt and oil from the skin can build up on the mask surface creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Eventually, these contaminants will begin to break down the silicone components of the mask, creating microscopic pits that can harbor dirt and bacteria. Daily mask cleaning and a good deep washing once a week can help prevent the build-up and oils that can damage the mask and your skin. 

CPAP mask pressure sores: Contact pressure sores usually occur due to the CPAP mask being fitted poorly. When wearing a CPAP mask with the straps pulled too tightly, the mask will dig into the skin for several hours, which can eventually result in pressure sores. Conversely, if the mask is fitted too loosely, it will move around during sleep, rubbing against sensitive areas of the skin. Special CPAP gel pads placed across the nasal bridge can help reduce skin irritation and facial sores, as well as reduce air leaks. 

CPAP dermatitis can occur due to allergic reactions to silicone or other mask components. There are two types of dermatitis associated with CPAP treatment: allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. According to Healthline, symptoms associated with allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • dry, scaly, flaky skin
  • hives
  • oozing blisters
  • skin redness
  • skin that appears darkened or leathery
  • skin that burns
  • extreme itching
  • sun sensitivity
  • swelling, especially in the eyes, face, or groin areas

Irritant contact dermatitis may cause slightly different symptoms, such as:

  • blistering
  • cracking skin due to extreme dryness
  • swelling
  • skin that feels stiff or tight
  • ulcerations
  • open sores that form crusts

Most cases of contact dermatitis will clear up on their own once the irritation source is removed. Using a mild hydrocortisone cream or Vaseline at contact points may help, but if you experience persistent symptoms of skin irritation, consult with your doctor or dermatologist. 

Skincare is an important part of a daily routine, and so is your CPAP device. Remember, having a properly fitted mask is essential to maintaining compliance with the treatment protocol. Keeping your CPAP system clean and sanitized can help prevent problems with CPAP mask irritation and other issues. Taking time to make some small adjustments to your daily skin hygiene can help keep your skin looking great and getting high quality sleep will, too. 

Not sure how to choose the right device or mask for your sleep apnea treatment plan? Consult one of our specialists at Valley Sleep Therapy to find the right device, mask, and accessories for you.