CPAP Nasal Pillows for Sleep Apnea

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and advised to use CPAP, you may be overwhelmed about how to choose a mask and be left wondering what nasal pillows are.

This style of CPAP mask may be just the interface you need to overcome certain problems tolerating CPAP, such as claustrophobia and air leaks. Discover whether nasal pillows CPAP masks are right for you and how to select the best one.

Mannequin with a nose mask on
Brandon Peters, M.D.

Nasal Pillows for CPAP Therapy

Nasal pillows are a type of CPAP mask consisting of plastic inserts that look like headphone earbuds that slip directly into the nostrils. The prescribed pressure used to keep the airway open is delivered through this mask. These small cushions rest at the end of the nose and may help to relieve problems such as air leak and claustrophobia.

Some of the most popular CPAP nasal pillow models include the Swift FX, AirFit P10, Nuance, Opus, Swift LT, and DreamWear masks. They may sometimes be combined with a mouth covering such as with hybrid masks like the Liberty or TAP PAP (which also uses a mouth guard component).

Benefits of Using a Nasal Pillow Mask

Nasal pillows are an excellent option for some people. If you suffer from claustrophobia, it may be difficult for you to tolerate having a large mask across your face. In particular, a mask blocking your eyes may be upsetting. In this case, nasal pillows may be helpful as they only minimally obstruct your vision and have little direct contact with the face.

In addition, men with facial hair such as large mustaches or beards may have trouble getting a seal with a standard CPAP mask that fits over the nose or around the mouth. In order to reduce the air leak, it may be necessary to cinch the mask down so tightly that it becomes uncomfortable. Nasal pillows eliminate this by applying the CPAP pressure directly into the nostrils.

Furthermore, some people prefer nasal pillows because they do not leave marks on the face from either a mask interface or the straps needed to keep the mask in place. Some people also like to have multiple mask styles to alternate from day to day as this likewise will minimize markings from the equipment.

Problems Associated With Using Nasal Pillows

Nasal pillows may not be for everyone, however. Some people do not find them comfortable. In particular, the pillows might tickle or irritate the nostrils. If they don't fit well, they can cause sores within the nose.

It is important that nasal pillows are properly sized. If they are too small, air may leak out around them and reduce the effectiveness of your treatment. Conversely, if the nasal pillows are too large they may uncomfortably stretch the nostrils.

Potentially, individuals with sensitive skin may develop a reaction to the plastic. Even in those without allergies, recurrent use of an ill-fitting mask may lead to pressure ulcers within the nostrils.

These complications are uncommon, and proper fitting will address most of the issues. Many people find nasal pillows to be a favorable option for the administration of CPAP to treat their sleep apnea.

If you are interested in trying nasal pillows, speak with your healthcare provider or equipment provider and get fitted for size and style that suits you.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.