Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines deliver compressed air throughout the night to keep airways open in people with obstructive sleep apnea. Each CPAP unit has three components: an air compressor that sends out a column of air at a pre-set pressure, an interface that sends air into the airways and a hose to connect the other two components. Poorly fitting interfaces prevent the column of air from reaching the airways, making CPAP therapy ineffective, says the American Sleep Apnea Foundation. While facial hair like mustaches and beards can interfere with a good fit, some masks are designed to accommodate this factor.
Recently, CPAP manufacturers have developed a number of full-face masks designed to fit around men's beards, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Full-face masks are triangular interfaces made from rigid plastic, vinyl, synthetic rubber, memory foam and/or gel. They've available in a number of designs and shapes to ensure a good fit for individuals with varying facial contours and facial hair.
Nasal pillows, small mushroom-shaped flexible pieces that come in pairs and fit into either nostril, are a good alternative for bearded men, says the American Sleep Apnea Association. The nasal pillows are attached to an adapter that connects to the hose. Available in a variety of sizes, nasal pillows don't come into contact with the upper lip or cheeks, so facial hair doesn't interfere with a good fit. Men can opt for side straps that wrap laterally around the head to hold the nasal pillows in place, or ball-cap-style straps that circle the crown of the head the way a baseball cap does, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The American Sleep Apnea Association recommends a third interface for bearded CPAP users. Instead of a traditional mask, this interface has two tubes that fit inside either nostril. It looks like the nasal cannula used to deliver oxygen in the hospital setting, but the tubing is larger in diameter, so it creates a seal within the nostrils. The CPAP unit sends compressed air out through a single cannula that splits into the two separate tubes that loop around the ears and go into the nostrils. Since there's nothing resting on the cheeks, upper lip or jaw, men with beards don't need to worry about achieving a good fit.