How to Avoid Panic Attacks When Starting CPAP Therapy

How to Avoid Panic Attacks When Starting CPAP Therapy

February 28, 2014 | |

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can be common among people who are first starting CPAP therapy. According to a 2012 study at the University of California, Berkeley, when a person has an apnea, their body releases certain hormones of anxiety and panic to try to restore breathing. In addition, people who suffer from panic attacks, in general, are more likely to have episodes while trying to fall asleep or while sleeping.

Having a CPAP mask covering your face is a new sensation that needs a small adjustment period. Since, in general, most users are not used to having something cover their face, it can understandably lead to feelings of suffocation. The reality is, though, that if you have sleep apnea and are not wearing a CPAP mask, your risk from suffocation is immeasurably greater.

User Feedback

Users on various CPAP support forums have some great advice about how to avoid panic attacks, and they speak from experience. "Janknitz" suggests really examining your full face mask. When you can see that the mask incorporates a valve that lets fresh air in from around you, not just from the machine, you'll know that you can't suffocate with the mask on even if the machine somehow stops working. She also suggests wearing your mask during the day while doing something quiet, like reading or watching TV, in order to get more familiar with it.

"Johud" has been using a CPAP machine for 15 years, and at the beginning, he had a hard time getting acclimated to his mask. His doctor suggested wearing it for ten minutes at a time while watching TV, which Johud says really helped him. On another note, "brokencrayola" is very claustrophobic, so she uses a nasal mask instead of a full face mask.

Speaking of which, CPAP users who report having trouble with panic attacks have mixed mask reviews. The user mentioned above finds that the nasal mask, rather than the full face mask, is better for her because she can open her mouth to breathe if she really needs to. Other users say, however, that the chin strap that can be used with the nasal mask makes them feel trapped, and that the full face mask is much more comfortable.

What we can take from this is that every person is different and that a mask choice is a very personal decision. It may take a few tries to find the perfect mask which not only provides comfort but also eases any strong negative reactions. But it's vital to keep trying until you figure out what works best for your particular situation. It may not be the same mask that works for your friend or relative, but the important thing is that the mask works for you.

Try Breathing Exercises

Another way to become more comfortable with your mask choice is by doing breathing exercises. Slowly inhale for four seconds, then exhale for four seconds. Count to ten and focus on breathing if you feel yourself start to get panicky with your mask on. When your body realizes it can breathe through the mask, it won't instinctively tense up.

Moreover, turn the CPAP on to feel how your body reacts to the feel of the pressure. It will give your brain an understanding of how the machine will work and feel while in use. Remember that an automatic machine only ramps up its pressure when necessary. So do not be alarmed if you have the mask on while your awake and the pressure is very low. The machine is designed to keep you sleeping comfortably, not keep you awake!

Generally speaking, CPAP panic will go away as soon as you get used to the mask and the air flow. It just takes some time and patience. Don't give up, though. Once you are able to sleep with CPAP, your sleep and your life, in general, will drastically improve. In the end, the struggle is worth it. We promise.

If you have concerns about your equipment, we are always available to answer questions. You can find us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, or get in touch directly at or by calling 1-866-414-9700.