When it comes to sleep apnea treatment, continuous positive airway pressure therapy is the gold standard. However, some individuals experience a common side effect known as CPAP-related dermatitis, which is a condition that typically manifests in the form of CPAP nose sores and skin rashes with irritation. Left unchecked, contact dermatitis can lead to long-term complications, so early identification and treatment are essential!
Today we’ll cover everything you need to know about this condition, including its causes and symptoms. We’ll also provide guidance for treating and managing CPAP contact dermatitis. Lastly, we’ll cover prevention tips and answer a few of the most commonly asked questions regarding CPAP rashes, red spots, and other related skin irritations.
Understanding CPAP Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a condition that arises when the skin becomes irritated and inflamed after coming in contact with some type of irritant or allergen. This usually results in the affected area becoming red and sometimes even painful.
Unfortunately, people who treat their sleep apnea through CPAP therapy have an increased risk of developing dermatitis. However, most of these cases can be easily treated at home, with the majority of affected individuals recovering without professional intervention.
Causes of CPAP Dermatitis
CPAP dermatitis can be categorized into two main groups— allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. We’ll go over them below!
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
As the name suggests, allergic contact dermatitis arises when your skin comes in contact with something you are allergic to. When the skin touches these materials, it triggers an allergic reaction, leading to hives, rashes, or other types of irritation.
In the case of CPAP therapy, a small number of individuals already have or may develop an allergy to certain materials used in CPAP masks or accessories. You are much more likely to experience allergic dermatitis if you have a latex, adhesive, or silicone allergy. Keep in mind that it is also possible to develop an allergy or sensitivity to the cleaners, soaps, or detergents you use to clean your mask and headgear, which is why we typically only recommend unscented soaps with simple ingredients like the CleanSmart CPAP Disinfectant Spray.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Unlike the other group, irritant contact dermatitis is not caused by an individual’s allergy to a specific material. Rather, it is the act of contact between the skin and the product or substance that causes an issue.
When it comes to CPAP dermatitis, the cause of the irritation is usually the CPAP mask itself. As a result, it can cause red marks and even sensitivity to touch. Below are some factors that can play a role in whether or not your CPAP mask is likely to cause dermatitis.
Over-Tightened Headgear: Getting a strong mask seal with your CPAP mask can take some effort. Oftentimes, this can lead people to over-tighten their masks, which puts a lot of pressure on the skin and causes friction. Most of the time, you will wake up with red marks or indentations that fade throughout the day. But over time, the friction and pressure can break down the skin barrier and lead to serious skin inflammation.
Lack of Mask Maintenance: It can be tempting to skip cleaning your equipment. But unfortunately, this can lead to the build-up of dirt, debris, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Just like cleaning your face with a dirty rag can cause acne, sleeping with a dirty mask or headgear can cause similar issues.
Exposure to Moisture: Between the humidified air and the moisture that gets exhaled from your body, CPAP machines create a lot of excess moisture. Most of the time, your skin dries quickly, and everything is okay. But when the exposed area is covered by a CPAP mask, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to dry out. This can cause your skin to become weakened and susceptible to injury, inflammation, bacteria growth, etc.
Poor Fitting CPAP Mask: Similar to tight head straps, wearing a mask that is too small or too big can lead to unnecessary rubbing and pressure against your face. This can irritate the pressure points of your face, particularly the bridge of the nose.
Signs and Symptoms of CPAP Dermatitis
CPAP-related dermatitis usually manifests on the nose or cheeks. The location of these sensitive spots typically depends on the type of mask you are wearing. Nasal pillow masks are more likely to trigger irritation inside the nostrils, while traditional nasal and full face masks are prone to causing issues on or around the nose.
Symptoms may include the following:
- Increased Sensitivity
If you notice that the affected area darkens in color, swells, becomes warm to the touch, or produces pus, see a doctor immediately. Additionally, it’s important to watch for fever or body aches, as these can be signs of infection.
How to Treat CPAP Dermatitis
In most cases, CPAP-related skin irritations and sore spots should resolve with time. However, if you are struggling with dermatitis caused by your CPAP machine or mask, you can do a few things to manage the symptoms and encourage healing!
Identify the Cause
First and foremost, it is important to identify what is triggering your skin sensitivities. This condition arises due to contact with a particular material, so it is important to avoid the irritating trigger if possible. One way you can do this is by using CPAP mask liners to keep your skin from coming in direct contact with your mask cushion.
If you notice worsening signs of dermatitis along certain pressure points after wearing your mask for a few days, your mask may be too tight or not fit properly. However, if the irritation is located underneath your head straps, it may be helpful to try washing your headgear using sensitive skin-friendly soap.
Keep the Area Clean
The key to healing is to keep the affected area as clean as possible, so wash your face with gentle soap and dry it with a clean cloth or towel. If you tend to touch your face or there is a chance that your face will become dirty, you may want to cover the area with a bandaid to keep the dirt, oils, and bacteria out.
Use a Wet Compress
One of the best, most natural ways to manage the symptoms of contact dermatitis is to apply a cool, wet cloth to the area. Combined with a bit of moisture, the cool touch can help to reduce itchiness, burning, or swelling. On the other hand, warm compresses are great for pain and can speed up recovery from infection.
To use a cold, wet compress, simply wet a clean rag, then place it in the refrigerator or wrap it around an ice pack. Once it’s ready, hold it to your face for around twenty minutes. Warm compresses can be made using a stack of wet towels heated in the microwave for one minute and fifty seconds. But be sure to use caution to avoid burning yourself!
Apply Over-the-Counter Creams
OTC creams, ointments, and/or lotions are not suitable for everyone. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using any medicated treatments. That said, if you are struggling to deal with the unpleasant side effects of dermatitis, OTC solutions may be helpful.
One widely recognized treatment is over-the-counter steroid cream, which can minimize inflammation and improve itchiness. Your doctor may also suggest applying calamine-containing products or aloe to soothe the affected area and reduce skin irritation.
Keep in mind that products containing petroleum can be used to protect the area and prevent excessive dryness during the day. However, they should not be used while wearing your CPAP mask, as this ingredient can degrade silicone mask cushions.
Prevention Tips for CPAP Dermatitis
Avoiding skin irritation while treating your sleep apnea with CPAP may not always be possible. But you can reduce your risk of developing contact dermatitis while using a CPAP machine.
- Keep your face clean and moisturized.
- Clean your CPAP equipment regularly, including rinsing your mask daily and cleaning it with gentle soap and water each week.
- Use accessories such as mask liners or head strap pads to provide a barrier between your mask, CPAP headgear, and skin.
- If you think your mask fits incorrectly, try adjusting the straps or ask for help from a sleep specialist.
- Consider trying a different type of mask that may be more gentle on your face, such as the ResMed AirTouch F20, which features a memory foam cushion rather than the standard silicone design.
- Contact our customer service department for more personalized assistance!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is My CPAP Giving Me a Rash?
CPAP can cause a rash for a few reasons. You may be allergic to the materials used to make your CPAP mask. Or you could be reacting to the products used to clean your equipment, such as soaps, rinses, or sanitizing sprays. A rash can also be a sign of a broken skin barrier, which can arise after wearing a mask that is too tight, doesn’t fit properly, or hasn’t been washed correctly.
Can I Use Vaseline With My CPAP Mask?
Using petroleum-containing products like Vaseline is not advised while wearing a CPAP mask. Petroleum jelly can break down the silicone used in most CPAP mask cushions.
Can CPAP Cause Contact Dermatitis?
Unfortunately, CPAP has been linked to contact dermatitis and other types of skin irritation. The good news is that there are ways to prevent this! We encourage you to keep your mask clean and make sure it fits your face properly. You can also use a mask liner to protect your face and prevent rashes and irritation.
If you are undergoing continuous positive airway pressure therapy, you have likely experienced the frustration of waking up with skin irritation from your CPAP equipment. If this sounds familiar, know you don’t have to suffer through the discomfort! By taking some time to understand this condition, including prevention, identification, and even how to treat CPAP dermatitis, you can keep those pesky skin irritations away!
If you need more personalized support, our customer service experts are ready and eager to help!