CPAP masks cover the full face or parts of the face while nasal pillows sit just underneath the nose and create a seal at the base of the nostrils. There are pros and cons to each mask option, and everyone has their own preference.
According to CPAP.com, out of the two basic designs for mask options, one mask covers the nose and mouth or full face, and one covers over just the nose area. These types of masks often have a "four-point headgear" system.
The full face mask is good for people who breathe through their mouth at night. This is good for people who have ongoing sinus issues and breathing through the nose is a problem.
A chin strap option is available for people who are physically able to breathe through their nose at night and use the nose mask. The chin strap helps keep the mouth closed.
Nasal pillows sit underneath the nose and the device sits at the opening of the nostrils. This is a "maskless" option because nasal pillows do not cover any part of the face.
There are some nasal pillow systems come with headgear to hold the nasal pillow in place.
One nasal pillow option has a mouthpiece to hold the nasals pillows in place. There are even some hybrid masks that use both a mask that cover the mouth in addition to the nasal pillows.
Pros and Cons of CPAP Masks
While there are many different types, CPAP masks have typical pros and cons.
Advantages of using CPAP masks are that they are well suited for people who:
- Sleep on their stomach or side
- Toss and turn a lot
- Have trouble with the added stress nasal pillows cause on the sinuses
- Breathe through their mouth at night instead of their nose
Some people like their CPAP masks because they have tried other face masks and have not had success in using them. People express that their face mask produces a good seal and is more comfortable to sleep with.
Common problems associated with CPAP masks are:
- Sores on the bridge of the nose
- Can force the jaw into an unnatural position
- People can have sensitivities to the mask materials
- Mask can leak for people with beards
- Mask can have air leaks around eye area, which causes eye discomfort the next day
People who dislike the masks and prefer nasal pillows feel too encumbered by face masks and do not like the feeling of the mask on their face. They also do not like being restricted throughout the night from eating or drinking, or being able to blow their nose.
Pros and Cons of Nasal Pillows
People have expressed likes and dislikes about the nasal pillows as well.
Some advantages of nasal pillows are:
- Great for people who sleep on their sides
- Have minimal facial hardware
- Not as easy to pull off during sleep
Some people prefer the nasal pillows over face masks. They love the freedom nasal pillows provide from the encumbering masks and prefer the seal it creates within the nostrils. They also like the fact that you can take the pillows and rotate them until you get a good seal. Also, for men with beards and mustaches, nasal pillows might seal better than the face mask.
Nasal pillows are known to have some potential drawbacks.
- Increased nasal discomfort and pain due to dryness
- Increased nose bleeds
- More difficult to use at higher pressures
- Cannot be used effectively by people who breathe through their mouths at night or have chronic sinus issues
While some people do prefer the nasal pillows, some are afraid that they will cause the nostrils to widen with nightly use and cited this as a reason to either minimize use or to use just a face mask.
Making the Best Choice for You
No one mask is right for everyone. It is best to be fitted for a mask to make certain the mask will create a seal and be right for your personal physical attributes. You want to make sure the mask fits right and you can maintain a good seal.
Patience is the key in working with your CPAP machine and finding the CPAP mask that suits you best.