I Can’t Breathe with CPAP Mask

February 20, 2018 | CPAP Tips & Tutorials |
Hand holding a CPAP mask.

Sometimes we get calls from CPAP patients using full face CPAP masks calling in asking what to do about the feeling that they can’t breathe with CPAP mask.

Like aircraft pilots, CPAP patients can get the sensation of not being able to breathe. This sensation could be caused by several different factors. The following is a short list of causes and their remedies.

1. Positive Pressure is Too High – Check with your physician and insurance provider about getting a Respironics DreamStation or a Resmed AirSense10 Auto CPAP machine with many comfort breathing features.

ResMed AirSense 10

• An auto-adjusting device for treating sleep apnea that includes a built-in humidifier, is whisper-quiet, and offers free shipping

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2. Arrested Breathing – This can happen to many people. There have been many movies that have shown military pilots that take their masks off. The movie Independence Day has an example. To solve the problem, hold your breathe and count to five slowly, then begin breathing normally again.

3. Claustrophobic – Imagine yourself in a boat in the middle of a calm lake fishing with your best friend. Hold your breathe and count to five slowly, then begin breathing normally again. If this doesn’t help get a CPAP nasal mask or nasal pillow masks.

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.

Chris Vasta


Chris Vasta

Over a 10+ year career at PHH Mortgage managing a $100 million portfolio, Chris Vasta learned the ins and outs of the business world. He learned how to establish business relationships, lead a multi-prong team, and implement strategies for long-term growth. In 2007, Vasta used that experience to transition his role into president of The CPAP Shop. Over his tenure, Vasta has been involved in everything from website design to warehouse layout. His hands-on approach with customers has evolved into an in-depth understanding of the challenges of beginning and adhering to sleep therapy. He often provides his insights on product…

18 Comments Leave new

  • Kar

    I have tried 10 times over two days to use this CPAP . I cant breathe every time I turn on the machine, feels like I am gasping for air (almost like if you are swimming under water gasping for air) , cant wear it for more than 10-20 seconds. I feel like I need to vomit after the mask is on, feel dizzy, lightheaded, heart beating fast after every time I try it on. I called the company that gave me this cpap, they tell me to keep trying. Honestly it feels like a torture everytime I put it on. Anyone else feel that way?

    • Mickey

      I finally figured it out. Your mask might be on too tight. I had no breathing problems the first night. But at one point it came loose so I adjusted it to be tighter. The second night and beyond I felt like no matter how hard I inhaled without a mask leak, I couldn’t get enough air. Then I thought about all the medical shows I’ve ever seen and how they hold the mask by hand. So I detached and loosened all the harnessing. I turned on the mask seal tester and held the mask by hand in front of my face. Found the position that allowed for a seal but so I could breathe comfortably (an extremely loose touch). Then I held that position as I carefully attached the harness to match that position. No more breathing issues.

  • Elona Camporeale

    I use a overflow concentrator and I use a resperonics trilogy b-pap I’m wondering if the concentrator is the best I can use. I’ve also seen where this overflow Phillips concentrator is being discontinued. Thankyou

    • Chris Vasta

      TheCPAPshop can not provide medical advice. Please consult with your treating physician for their recommendation on the best concentrator for your needs. If you would like to discuss the different concentrators we have in our inventory, please contact one of our customer service team members with The oxygen concentrator supplies shop, at 1-856-246-5710.

  • Toni Haas

    I am new to CPAP and have tried it for over a month. I feel like I can’t breathe when I use it.
    Also, is it right to breath the same air in and out of the same place. I feel like I’m forcing my air back into it. I have tried a few different masks. I’m so very irritated and have had apnea for over 3 years and need to sleep. HELP ME, PLEASE.

  • Julianne Lawrence

    You might have shipping material blocking the vents. When comparing my old connector with the new one, I can see a plastic ring blocking all air flow on the new connector.

  • Jim

    I use ResMed F20 mask and Dreamstation CPAP. The pressure is set at the lowest at 4 lbs. I am re-inhaling the exhaled air and wake up with a splitting headache. It seems the little two-way valve in the neck of the hose-stem that attaches to the mask lets air flow in but doesn’t let the air flow out on the exhale. This has been an on-going problem. I tried setting the pressure up to 15 lbs and wearing the mask loosely so the airflow would keep my throat open while still allowing me to exhale, which seemed to work okay. I would wake up rested and no headache. So then, the damn compliance people from the provider said I wasn’t in compliance because I had a big mask leak. I tried to explain the problem but nobody seems to have the slightest idea what I am talking about. Finally the doctor prescribed to have the setting changed to 3 lbs but the effing machine only goes down to 4. Someone please advise.
    Thanks, Sleepless in Vegas

    • Chris Vasta

      If the F20 valve is not functioning correctly there would be an obvious leak and noise. If the CO2 could not escape from the normal exhalation vent, the mask would pop out. Perhaps talk to your doctor about trying a different mask.

  • Mae

    I used a full face mask because I breathe thru my mouth, but now I believe this mask is causing air to get into my stomach which is causing problems. I just received a wisp mask which only covers your nose. I am now having problems breathing thru my nose it seem to cut off my breathing and I am scare to sleep with it. I also can’t use anything inserted in my nose. What can I use, please help.

    • Chris Vasta

      Hello, Mae. It may help to increase the ramp time to 45 min and increase Flex or EPR setting on your machine. Please consult with your physician regarding swallowing air.

  • Chris

    That stuff doesn’t help. I have been trying it. I still have trouble breathing. The machine tries to make me breath when I am not ready to breath. I am trying to relax and go to sleep and the damn thing wakes me up by pushing air at me. I am having enough problem relaxing having the damn thing on my face in the first place and then when I am so exhausted and start to fall asleep it wakes me. The anxiety starts all over again. On top of all that, the thing stinks so bad and gives me headaches. The smell of the stupid thing stays in my sinuses all day and dries them out, even with the humidifier. I hate it! The only reason I am even trying it is because my doctor said my insurance won’t pay for Narcolepsy treatment, which he thinks I have, unless we try this first. He said my apnea is very mild but they won’t let him treat me for the Narcolepsy unless I go through this agony first.

    • Chris Vasta

      Hello, Chris. May I ask which type of machine you have? The reason I ask is that the CPAP machine will keep your airway open, allowing you to breathe on your own but it will not force you to breathe. Perhaps try soaking the mask for a bit to rinse off any residue from the manufacturing process, to reduce the scent of the material. We recommend using a gentle soap like Ivory. If you are looking to combat dry sinuses, drinking plenty of water helps, but you can also look into the nasal moisturizing aloe vera moisturizing gel we carry. You can pull that nasal moisturizing lotion up on our site under the sku AGCE1000.

  • Joe Gregor

    I have a hard time with my ResMed 10. Can’t breathe wearing it and hard to breathe when I remove the mask and a headache. My pressure was set at 10, now 12… Can’t breathe!!!

    • Chris Vasta

      Hello, Joe.
      The difference in the pressure when you first take off your mask may cause headaches in the beginning if you are new to cpap therapy. That sensation typically fades after a bit. It my help you to feel more comfortable when exhaling on the Airsense10 if you raise the expiratory pressure relief (EPR) or try a different mask. You may have to reach out to the distributor where the cpap machine was purchased from in order to adjust the EPR.

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