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How to Prevent Mouth Breathing on CPAP

Simple Interventions Include Treating Nasal Obstruction, Chinstrap

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Updated February 24, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How to Prevent Mouth Breathing on CPAP

A simple chinstrap may be used with a nasal mask to keep your mouth closed when using CPAP.

Brandon Peters, M.D.

If you struggle with mouth breathing while using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for sleep apnea, keep in mind that there are several things you can do that will help.

First however, you may be wondering: Why is mouth breathing bad? The CPAP delivers a constant flow of air that is meant to keep your upper airway open so you can breathe easily. However, if your mouth falls open while the air is being delivered through your nose via a mask, it will escape. This can be an uncomfortable sensation. It can also dry your mouth out. Most importantly, it may reduce the effectiveness of your treatment.

Mouth breathing may occur for a few reasons. Some people may have an anatomical problem, like a deviated septum. If you have allergies or nasal congestion, this will likewise be a problem.

How to Fix Nasal Obstruction

It is important that you be able to take breaths through your nose without a sense of the air meeting resistance. If you have allergies, you may need to speak to your doctor about treating them with oral medications or nasal steroids. You may also find it helpful to rinse your nose with a neti pot, which delivers warm water into you nose and sinuses. If you have a deviated septum, this may need to be corrected with surgery.

What If It’s an Equipment Problem?

The next likely culprit may be your CPAP mask or machine. If the mask is not fitting properly, it may leak or cause other problems. It is important to follow basic fitting guidelines, which take into account your unique facial features, and find a mask that suits you well. If air is leaking from your mouth, this presumes you are using a mask that delivers the air into your nose. One possible solution is to try a mask that covers both your nose and mouth or one that delivers the air directly into your mouth.

Regardless of the mask type that you choose, it is highly recommended that your machine be fitted with a heated humidifier. The humidified air will keep the nose, mouth, and throat moist and this will make things more comfortable and tolerable.

Use a Chinstrap to Keep the Mouth Closed

If it is a simple matter of your mouth falling open, this can be corrected with a chinstrap. A chinstrap is usually a piece of fabric, often fitted with Velcro, that can be secured around your lower jaw and the top of your head. It will keep your mouth closed and often corrects mouth breathing on CPAP. It may not be a cure-all, as some people may still have problems that persist despite the use of a chinstrap, either snoring or having their lips buzz as the air continues to escape.

Troubleshooting and Alternative Treatments

It may be necessary to have a repeat sleep study to ensure that you have a proper amount of pressure delivered. If you have old equipment, you should have this checked. As the equipment ages, the pressure that is delivered may wane through leaks or other problems.

Finally, other interventions and alternative therapies including position therapy or even surgery may be necessary as a last resort.

You should continue to be diligent about finding a solution. Compliance to CPAP can be tough, and there are many potential tolerance problems, but avoiding the serious consequences of sleep apnea makes the hard work worth it.

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