According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are more than 18 million adults in the U.S. currently living with obstructive sleep apnea. The condition is one that impacts people of all ages and genders.
Many of the people who have this condition use continuous positive airway pressure devices, or CPAPs, to help them maintain a steady stream of air coming into their bodies while they sleep. In fact, CPAP devices are among the most commonly prescribed for this condition.
Some people who use CPAP machines complain of dry eyes. It’s a common complaint among CPAP users. The better you understand the possible reasons, causes and solutions, the better you will be able to protect your eyes and find relief from the unpleasant symptoms of dry eyes.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes with CPAP
Dry eyes are a sign that your tears aren’t providing sufficient lubrication for your eyes. Below are some of the symptoms of dry eyes.
- Stringing or burning eyes
- Scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Redness of eyes
- Eyes are sensitive to light
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty driving at night
- The feeling that you have something in your eyes
Your CPAP may be the cause of your dry eyes, but it isn’t the only possible cause. Obviously, these aren’t the only symptoms of dry eyes. But, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, you may have dry eyes.
If you are using a CPAP machine and didn’t have these symptoms before you began using your machine, the CPAP may be the cause of your dry eyes.
Reasons and Causes for Dry Eyes with CPAP
Wondering what causes dry eyes with CPAP? It’s important to consider all potential reasons and causes for dry eyes with CPAP.
Air Leaks in the CPAP Mask
One of the most common causes of dry eye among CPAP users is a simple air leak. You wear your masks close to your nose and eyes. An air leak in this close proximity to your eyes can result in instantaneous drying of the eyes and plenty of discomfort for the wearer.
Depending on how high the pressure settings are on your mask, it can be a fair amount of air moving toward your eyes each night and causing them to dry out.
Air from Other Sources Moving Across the Eyes
While CPAPs with air leaks can move air across your eyes, drying them out quickly. Other sources of air movement in your room can cause the same discomfort.
This includes things like ceiling fans, oscillating fans, and even window or portable air conditioner units can lead to air moving across the eyes while you sleep drying them out in the process.
Certain health conditions make it difficult for your eyelids to close completely while you sleep. While you may be able to overcome that difficulty in the best of circumstances, it only serves to exacerbate dry eye conditions caused by leaky CPAP masks or other sources of air flowing throughout your room as you sleep.
The solutions presented below will help you identify the sources of your dry eye problem, so you can come up with a workable solution to preserve the comfort and health of your eyes.
Solutions for Dry Eyes with CPAP
Dry eyes are uncomfortable. But it can also cause damage to the surface of your eyes, lead to eye infections, and may interfere with your quality of life (especially if you engage in everyday activities that involve strenuous use of your eyes. These are some of the solutions that can help you overcome your problem of dry eyes with CPAP masks.
Use Artificial Tears
One of the solutions highly recommended by Dr. Russell Beach of Virginia is to use thicker artificial tears prior to going to bed at night. He advises against thinner teardrop substitutes in favor of more substantial gels and ointments that offer broader protection against dryness for the eyes.
These thicker artificial tears are more preventative measures to prevent dry eyes from occurring rather than reactive measures. Though, they can provide immediate relief to the burning, itching, discomfort of dry eyes.
Find and Fix the Air Leak in Your Mask
The first place to look, though, is often your CPAP mask. This is in addition to the tubing that may also have leaks that require replacement. Your mask, though, may not need to be replaced.
You may be able to adjust your mask so that it fits flush to your skin. This doesn’t require the tightening of your mask but is better accomplished by Adding a nose cushion to your mask to form a better seal that prevents air from escaping. You can also try using a nasal pillow.
Clean Your CPAP Mask Thoroughly
Don’t forget to give your CPAP mask a thorough cleaning. Especially if you haven’t done so in a while. Dirt and oils can prevent the mask from adhering sufficiently to your face, breaking the seal and allowing air to escape.
Other Things to Try for Your Dry Eyes with CPAP
- Talk with your technician about lowering the pressure setting on your mask or ramping up the pressure gradually so that the pressure is less likely to break the seal.
- Sleep with your mouth closed to avoid mouth breathing.
- Change your sleep position or use an additional chin strap or adhesive tape to hold the mask in place while you sleep.
- Replace your CPAP mask or your mask straps. Especially if it has been a few months since you changed them last.
Dry eyes are not comfortable to live with and can have negative effects on overall eye health. Figuring out what’s causing your dry eyes is essential to resolve it. Learning your options for reducing and preventing dry eyes with CPAP can help you maintain optimal eye health and quality of life when things go wrong and air escapes your CPAP mask.
Be sure to talk with your CPAP sleep doctor about this problem to help determine the dry eyes causes and solutions unique to you. You can also call us here at CPAP.com at 1-800-356-5221 or use our live chat feature to talk to one of our CPAP experts.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.