Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a relatively common condition and studies indicate that it may affect more than one billion individuals worldwide.
Thankfully, our understanding of OSA has dramatically increased in recent times. As a result, there are effective treatments to consider. The most effective solution involves the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
The good news is that there are many CPAP devices and accessories, and each of these has its own unique set of qualities.
One example is face masks – whether silicone is the best material for face masks or memory foam is the more practical solution. Let's first quickly review the functions and benefits of a CPAP machine before moving on to compare each substance.
How Does a CPAP Work?
Although the internal mechanics will often differ between models, the primary intention of any CPAP is clear. This machine is used to provide users with air at a slightly higher pressure as measured in centimeters of water and included in the prescription from your doctor.
The goal here is to ensure that the trachea remains open while asleep, averting some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea such as snoring or waking up gasping for breath.
Note that some machines contain built-in humidifiers that are ideal for those who might become irritated by a constant supply of dry air. Each unit can be broken down into several core components:
- The base unit (a motor that provides a source of pressurized air).
- A flexible hose that may be heated to transport the air.
- A face mask (nasal-only masks or full masks that cover the mouth and the nose).
For the sake of this article, we will focus on the materials used in CPAP masks. Two common solutions are silicone and memory foam.
Some people choose CPAP masks that have been constructed from silicone and there are actually several advantages associated with this option.
The most prevalent involves the fact that masks can be cleaned on a regular basis. It is therefore much less likely to develop mold or bacteria. As this is also a non-porous material, it will not absorb moisture while worn.
Some users will note that this substance is slightly abrasive, especially when present in full-face CPAP masks. This could present an issue in terms of comfort and it might even impact one's quality of sleep.
Some people may be allergic to silicone. Prolonged contact with the skin can lead to irritation, itching and rashes.
Finally, it can sometimes be difficult for silicone to conform to certain facial features. Mustaches and beards are two common examples. If any gaps are present between the mask and the face, air will begin to leak out. This can reduce the effectiveness of CPAP therapy.
Now that we've briefly examined the main features of silicone CPAP face masks, what about memory foam?
This material is much denser than normal foam and due to unique mechanical properties, it can be molded around nearly any shape – and is often used in mattresses and pillows. Memory foam is also used in CPAP face masks.
Many people say that memory foam is the most comfortable option in a face mask. It is also softer when compared to more traditional materials, so those with sensitive skin should not experience any issues. Some other unique characteristics of foam face masks include:
- As they fit snugly, users will not be forced to overtighten the mask straps.
- Foam will not leave any annoying lines on the surface of the skin in the morning.
- The only real alternative for those who are allergic to silicone.
What about the possible downsides of memory foam?
One potential issue involves the fact that the foam in CPAP masks will need to be replaced on a regular basis (generally each month). Over time, this could increase the overall cost of the treatment.
Foam can also experience sudden tears or faults, essentially rendering the mask useless until a replacement is found. Foam may also break down after multiple cleanings.
Making the Right Decision
We can now see that there are benefits and certain drawbacks associated with each type of material. How can you make the right choice?
Answering this question will be partially based on your personal preferences as well as if you have any specific allergies. Many nonetheless feel that memory foam is the most practical solution.
One example can be seen in the ResMed AirTouch N20 Nasal CPAP Mask. Its foam is extremely comfortable and ideal for those who frequently travel.
Furthermore, there are four different size options depending on the unique contours of your face. Feel free to take a closer look at this brand to appreciate its other interesting qualities.
The bottom line is that relief from obstructive sleep apnea will require targeted approaches. One of these involves the materials found within CPAP masks.
This is why it could also be a good idea to experiment with both options, silicone and memory foam. Regardless of the final decision, there is little doubt that a sound night of sleep is only a breath away.