Updated January 28, 2021
So now that you’ve ordered your first CPAP machine, it’s time to learn how to use it! In this article, we’ll show you 6 tips and tricks on how to get started with your CPAP therapy. Here are the six steps we’re going to cover:
- How to Set Up CPAP Filters
- How to Attach the CPAP Hose and Mask
- How to Properly Wear Your CPAP Mask
- How to Set Up CPAP Pressure Settings
- How to Set Up Your Humidifier
- How to Turn On Your CPAP Machine
We’ll also be going over strategies for getting used to CPAP therapy. If you get stuck and have questions, give us a call! We have trained CPAP experts standing by to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-356-5221 and we’d be happy to assist you!
Ok – so you’ve been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, you’ve ordered all of your CPAP supplies and equipment, and now you’re staring at all of the pieces and wondering where to start. Don’t worry – we’re here to help! We’re going to take you through the basics of how to use a CPAP machine and how to use CPAP equipment.
Though specifics on how to use the Sleep Apnea machine and equipment will vary, these general steps will walk you through the setup process. We’ll also provide helpful tips and tricks on getting used to CPAP therapy in general so that you’ll be able to adjust quickly when your machine comes.
Don’t have a machine yet? No worries! We’ve written a comprehensive guide to CPAP machines that covers all the basics and helps you find the machine that’s right for you.
1. How to Set Up CPAP Filters
First things first, establish what kind of CPAP filters you have. Are you using a foam filter, a disposable paper filter, or a bacteria filter? Maybe all three? Reusable foam filters are placed at the air intake of your CPAP machine. If you’re using a disposable filter as well, place your paper filter inside the machine first, followed by the foam filter on the outside.
The bacteria filter can be a little trickier. If you’re using a humidifier, you’ll need to place this filter at the air outtake of your humidifier instead of on your CPAP machine. If you’re not using a humidifier, the bacteria filter is placed directly at the air outtake of your CPAP machine. Once it is placed at the air outtake, you can then attach your CPAP hose to the other end.
If you’re using a heated tube and a bacteria filter, you’ll need to attach it in between the hose and mask.
2. How to Attach the CPAP Hose and Mask
Let’s start with attaching your hose to the air outlet of either your CPAP machine or humidifier, depending on your course of treatment. If you have trouble with this step, double check your hose – is it standard or slim?
Slim CPAP hoses have a diameter of 15mm and your CPAP machine must have a compatible setting to accept the smaller diameter. Some very small CPAP machines also require a hose adapter between the machine and the 22mm cuff of the hose.
Attaching your hose to the mask should be easier, as most hoses have a 22mm connection cuff to fit onto all CPAP masks. The AirMini is the one exception to this rule, as it requires a special type of elbow and tubing to connect the hose to the compatible ResMed masks. If you have trouble, make sure your mask doesn’t have a swivel in place that could be preventing proper connection.
If you’re using a hard-cuffed hose and notice the connection isn’t totally snug, try using a hose flexitube adapter.
You’re now halfway done learning how to use a CPAP machine!
3. How to Properly Wear Your CPAP Mask
Hopefully, when ordering your mask, you used the sizing guide to determine the proper size and shape for your face and remembered to choose a CPAP mask for your sleep position. While these steps are extremely helpful, you’ll still need to do some minor adjustments to get your CPAP mask fitting just right.
To do this, start by sitting on the edge of your bed. Place the mask on your face with the straps relatively loose. Then, lay down in bed as you would when getting ready for sleep. Gently and patiently start pulling the straps evenly on all sides until it feels comfortable – not too tight! You’ll need to test it for leaks once you finish getting your machine set up and make minor adjustments from there.
Pro Tip: Consider Getting a CPAP Pillow Some types of CPAP masks have a lot of bulk towards the front of the face, making it difficult to sleep in a favorite sleeping position. CPAP pillows are a great way to get around this problem.
These specialized pillows are designed with special cutouts in them– creating space for the extra bulk of a mask. This makes the pillow less likely to break the seal when trying to get comfortable.
Pro Tip: Consider a Mask With an Open Field of Vision Masks with wide viewing angles make it easy to read a book, watch a movie or TV, or send a text, and are available in full face, nasal pillow, and nasal CPAP mask versions. So no matter your preferred mask style, there’s a mask with an open field of vision for you.
For anyone who’s tried to do anything productive before bed with a bulky mask, you know how difficult it can be. Do yourself a favor and consider buying a low-profile mask before you even start CPAP therapy. Here are some examples:
Pro Tip: Make Sure Your Face is Washed Before Putting on Your Mask Doing this step will help reduce wear on the silicone and make the mask have a better seal. Washed faces are less oily and create a better seal because there’s less space between the mask and the face. Unwashed faces have a thin layer of human oils that make it difficult to get a great seal with the CPAP mask.
- ResMed AirFit F30 Full Face Mask
- ResMed AirFit P10 Nasal Pillow Mask
- Philips Respironics DreamWear Nasal CPAP Mask
- ResMed N30i Nasal CPAP Mask
4. How to Set Up CPAP Pressure Settings
When your new CPAP machine ships, the correct pressure will already be set, as the pressure you need is a part of the prescription. So when the machine arrives at your door, it will be ready to go with the correct pressure setting, and you won’t need to do this on your own.
During your sleep study, your doctor will have calculated the proper titrated pressure for your CPAP therapy. It is not recommended that you make adjustments to your pressure settings without consulting your doctor first. Otherwise, you may miss out on the best possible treatment and may find your therapy is less effective.
5. Setting Up Your Humidifier
For most people, a humidifier isn’t an optional piece of equipment. Humidifiers are used to add moisture to CPAP therapy air, meaning you will be less likely to have a severely dry nose or mouth if you use one. Humidifiers are included with some machines, while on others they are an optional accessory. If you think you might need one, make sure you include it with your new machine budget.
To use a humidifier, simply fill up the water chamber to the line (the water chamber should have a line imprinted in the plastic, telling you where to stop) with distilled water. It’s important to use distilled water. Tap water will leave a hard film at the bottom of your water chamber, and it will be difficult to clean. The quality of tap water varies in different locations, with some homes having poor tap water. Remember, you will be breathing in the water in your humidifier, so it’s important that it’s free from all impurities.
Pro Tip: Cleaning your humidifier can be easy or difficult depending on what kind of water you use. As stated before, tap water is the worst kind of water you can use, as it leaves a chalky film behind. Cleaning the chalky film can be done using vinegar, which does a good job of cutting through the deposits, and will work better than soap and water.
Pro Tip: Using a humidifier makes it easier to stick with your therapy. If you’ve never used a humidifier with your CPAP therapy, you don’t know what you’re missing! Humidifiers add moisture to your therapy air, and the added moisture helps reduce dryness from your sinuses or mouth, leaving you feeling refreshed in the morning. Without the humidifier, the pressurized air can leave you feeling severely dry and parched when you wake up. This is a common frustration with CPAP therapy, however, it is one that’s easily fixed.
6. How to Turn Your CPAP Machine On
Now you know how to use a CPAP machine! You’ve set up all of the pieces and now it’s time to start your CPAP therapy. Before turning it on, place your machine on a flat, stable surface near your bed, giving the vents at least 12 inches of space from walls, bedding, or curtains. Plug your CPAP machine into a nearby outlet, avoiding an extension cord if possible. If you really need one, opt for a heavy duty extension cord.
Now, making sure your face is freshly washed, position your mask back on your face and fasten it into place. Then, when comfortable, turn your CPAP machine on. You’ll feel the pressure begin to increase, so just try to relax and keep breathing evenly. If the pressure initially seems kind of high, consider trying to use the “ramp” feature on your machine. A “ramp” feature means that the pressure starts out very soft and low, and gradually increases until it’s blowing at your ideal pressure.
The benefit to doing this is it may make falling asleep easier. Not all machines have the “ramp” feature, so if you think it’s a feature that would be important to you, look for it in a machine’s description.
Don’t know if a machine has “ramp”? It’s easy! Call one of our CPAP experts at 1-800-356-5221 and we’d be happy to help you find one!
How to Clean a CPAP Machine
So after you’ve used your CPAP machine for a little while, it’s now time to clean it! Here are some tips to get started:
- Start by wiping down the outside of the machine case, and remove any dust or dirt on the exterior.
- Clean the hose by running vinegar or mild soapy water through it, and then rinsing with water when finished.
- Allow your hose to drip dry before next use.
Most of the cleaning you’ll need to do for your CPAP machine will be done for your mask. Over time, the mask gathers facial oils and deposits from your mouth or nose and will need to be cleaned and sanitized. Follow these steps when cleaning a mask:
- Disassemble the CPAP mask by removing the headgear and ejecting the cushion from the frame.
- Soak the headgear in warm soapy water. Please use fragrance-free and color-free soap to avoid degrading the material.
- After the headgear has been cleaned, make sure you wring out the soap until there is no more residue.
- Allow the headgear to dry.
- Clean the cushions in mild, fragrance-free soap. Be sure to remove all deposits that have collected on the cushion.
- Allow to dry
- Wipe down the frame and remove any deposits that have collected.
- When all components are dry, assemble the mask parts together. The mask is ready for next use.
How to Get Used to CPAP Therapy
Getting used to CPAP therapy isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The mask is new and can be uncomfortable, the sensation of pressure hitting the face can be hard to get used to, and you may no longer be able to sleep in a favorite position. How can you cope? There are a few things you can try to make therapy more comfortable. Try these steps:
- Consider wearing the mask around the house, even when you’re awake. This will help you get used to the feel of the mask on your face, and make you less sensitive to the feel of the straps.
- Practice breathing with the mask and machine on, this will help you get used to the air pressure as it flows through the hose and mask.
- Try to locate the exhaust vents on the mask, and practice breathing with the mask on and machine off. This will help you realize that you can breathe even when the machine is not running, which can help ease fears of suffocating.
- Try to find a sleep position that’s both comfortable for you and doesn’t impact the mask. Bonus! If you can, consider side sleeping. Side sleeping will make things easier for your CPAP machine, as it tries to do its job. Sleeping on your back is the worst position to be in, as it makes it harder for your machine to work.
What Are Some Side Effects of a CPAP Machine?
CPAP side effects are pretty common problems, and some you may notice right away. Depending on your situation, you may experience some of the following:
- Bloating and cramps in the belly
- Dry mouth and sinuses
- Nasal drainage
Bloating and Cramps: This could be caused by swallowing air, either from the pressure being too high on inhale or because your exhale relief isn’t working well enough to stop air from going down the airway. Sometimes a simple pressure adjustment is enough to fix this CPAP side effect. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a BiPAP machine instead of a CPAP or APAP machine.
Dry Mouth and Sinuses: We suggest using a heated humidifier as the preferred way to keep your mouth and sinuses from drying out. If your mouth is dry the morning after therapy and you breathe through the nose, it could be a sign that the mouth is coming open during sleep. This can be resolved by using a chinstrap, which is used to keep your mouth closed during the night. This will help prevent your mouth from drying out.
Nasal Drainage: Sometimes a nasal based CPAP mask can cause overactive sinuses, causing a runny nose or similar issue. In some cases, allergy treatment may help you resolve overactive sinuses.
To learn more about CPAP side effects, problems and solutions, please see our article:
What Happens When You Don’t Use a CPAP Machine?
When you don’t use your CPAP machine, you’re only hurting yourself! Stopping CPAP therapy if you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea can put you at risk for serious health consequences like heart attack, stroke, or death. The best strategy when you have OSA is to troubleshoot the CPAP intolerance you may have and go from there. The best place to start is with your doctor. He or she may have helpful advice that can help you get back on track as you navigate your therapy.
Easy enough, right? You’re now ready to begin your CPAP therapy! It may take time to adjust, but the long-term benefits of CPAP therapy are well worth the few nights of discomfort as you adjust. Don’t take our word for it – talk to fellow CPAP patients at CPAPtalk.com.
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.