CPAP Nasal Mask vs Full Face Mask

When it comes to sleep apnea, CPAP is the most commonly prescribed and effective treatment option. However, CPAP treatment only works when people wear their mask every night. With this in mind, finding the most comfortable and easy to use CPAP mask for you and how you sleep is essential to get the most from your CPAP treatments.

CPAP masks come in three main varieties. Nasal masks offer both the cradle and pillow designs, while full face masks are the third option. Each variety has pros and cons and it is really just a matter of personal preference.

Nasal CPAP Masks

Nasal CPAP masks deliver room air at an increased pressure to the nasal passages. They are a triangle-shaped dome that covers your nose from the upper lip to the bridge of the nose. Cradle masks are similar to full nasal masks but do not go up to the bridge of the nose.


Works Well With All Sleep Positions

These masks are great for side and stomach sleepers, as well as those that fidget or toss and turn while they sleep. Regular movement is typically not enough to knock this mask out of position and airflow stays consistent no matter how your position changes.

Effective For Higher Pressure CPAP Settings

If you have more severe sleep apnea that requires higher pressure, a nasal mask is often preferred because it delivers the high pressure indirectly and allows for more natural breathing when air pressures are high.


Not Suited For Mouth Breathers

Nasal CPAP masks are not best suited if you breathe through your mouth. If you experience regular sinus congestion, such as colds or allergies, have a deviated septum, or have regular nosebleeds, a nasal mask may not work well for you.

Nasal Pillow CPAP Masks

Nasal pillow CPAP masks are the lightest and most compact form of CPAP masks. They look like a small pillow of tubing that covers the nostrils only, not the entire nose. Nasal plugs seal the nostrils and allow for air delivery directly into the nose.


Great For Various Sleep Positions

Similar to nasal cradle masks, pillows are great for those that move around in their sleep. The nasal plugs keep the seal tight and movement doesn’t affect the mask placement.

Good For Facial Hair

If you have facial hair, these are the masks for you. Because this mask seals directly in the nostrils, a mustache or beard doesn’t cause problems with sealing.


Not For Patients With High-Pressure Needs

Patients that require high pressure will probably not be comfortable with a nasal pillow mask. Because the air goes directly into the nasal passage, high pressure may be very uncomfortable.

Full Face Masks

Where nasal masks target breathing through the nose, a full face mask delivers air through both the nose and the mouth. They are bulkier than the nasal masks, covering both the nose and the mouth.


Effective Treatment for Mouth Breathers

If you breathe through your mouth, a full face mask is the only option that will deliver pressurized air through the mouth. This also works well for people that experience regular nasal congestion, such as allergies or colds.  

Ideal for High-Pressure CPAP Settings

For sleep apnea patients needing higher pressure, this type of CPAP mask is the ideal option as both the nose and mouth are receiving pressurized air.


Best Suited for Back Sleepers

The bulky design of a full face mask makes it difficult for people that move around in their sleep or sleep on their side or stomach. Movement can easily move the mask and provide for air leaking. For this reason, it is best suited for back sleepers.

Air Leaking is Common

Because of the larger size, air leaking is common, often into the area around the eyes. This can lead to eye irritation and dryness, as well as a reduction in the air pressure you receive.

How to Determine the Best Mask Type for You

When trying to determine the best mask type for you, consider trying each kind. When considering masks, there are a variety of things to consider, such as:

  • Do you sleep on your side, stomach, or a restless sleeper?
  • How do you breathe? Through your nose or mouth?
  • Do you suffer from allergies? Will having different masks during different parts of the year work better?
  • Do you have facial hair, and will it affect the seal of the mask?
  • What do you do at bedtime? Do you read or watch tv? How will your mask affect your bedtime routine?
  • Above all, which mask feels the most comfortable?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of which mask style works best with your needs. Every mask type comes with a variety of designs and manufacturers so it may take time to find the perfect mask and fit.

Don’t give up just because the first mask you tried didn’t work. For example, mouth breathers often go with a full face mask because they are the only ones that deliver air through the mouth. However, if you are a restless sleeper and a mouth breather, a full mask may not work. You may knock the mask around as you sleep and lose the air pressure you need through leaks. In this case, a nasal mask can be used with the addition of a chin strap designed to keep the mouth closed, forcing you to breathe through your nose.

CPAP is the most effective treatment option available for sleep apnea, but treatment cannot be effective unless it isn’t taken or used. Not using your machine because of an uncomfortable mask puts your health at risk, so finding the right mask for you is essential.

If you have tried a mask and it doesn’t seem to be working, talk with a sleep specialist and see what you can do about trying other varieties in a sleep setting until you can find one that works for you. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns and ask questions. The right mask helps improve your health and can provide life-changing results. Don’t give up and know the right mask is out there.