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You Can Lose Taste and Smell with Long-term CPAP Use

Posted On September 10, 2015
Man wearing a mask for treating sleep apnea. Mildly obese man suffering from sleep apnea and having a CPAP treatment
September 10, 2015

All your friends used to tease you. Why? Back in the day, you had the best sense of taste and smell out of everyone you knew. Their goal in life was to fool you. Your legendary taste buds could decipher the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa and one from Bordeaux. And your nose can sniff out the subtle nuances between Black Code and Acqua Di Gio cologne by Giorgio Armani. That was then but now you can’t discriminate the taste between almond milk and beer, and the smell of a skunk versus a blooming rose. Thankfully, your friends stopped the teasing. What gives? What could be wrong? Could you have lost your sense of taste and smell with long-term CPAP use?

Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP for short, is a recommended treatment for most people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition is defined as the unconscious stoppage of breathing for short periods of time throughout a night’s sleep. These pauses in breath are due to a partial or full obstruction of the airway. The CPAP keeps the passage open through a pressurized stream of air that is filtered through the mask. Therefore, this treatment option can help lessen sleep apnea symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, morning headaches, mood swings, memory loss and of course, snoring.

Complaints with Long-term CPAP Use

Despite the fact that it is the gold standard of treatment, there are quite a number of common complaints that often prevent sleep apea sufferers from using their CPAP machine. For some people, CPAP can cause:

  • If over time the mask becomes too large, small or tight, it can leave red marks on your face. Some sleep apnea sufferers can also develop a skin irritation or allergy to the rubber or plastics being used. If the mask no longer fits properly or causes a skin problem, the solution might be as easy as finding the mask that is just right for you. In addition, mask pads for the straps may be purchased to help cushion the face.
  • Bloating and excess gas. The feeling of being bloated or having excess gas is caused by air being trapped in the stomach. This occurs due to the flow of air by the CPAP machine. In order to prevent this complaint, use the CPAP chinstrap to keep from breathing through your mouth while in therapy. For some, air is being swallowed when the head tilts forward. This typically occurs when a person sleeps with either multiple pillows, or one very large pillow. If this is your preferred way to sleep, use a wedge pillow to elevate the head. Ideally, sleeping with your head aligned with the body is recommended. Therefore losing pillows altogether is preferred.
  • Nose, mouth and throat problems. This can be a troubling complaint for many people that use the CPAP. Inflammation, runny nose, pain, nasal congestion and in some cases, nosebleeds might all happen with long-term CPAP use. How and why do these CPAP side effects occur? In a nutshell, the fast-moving air irritates the inner tissues of the throat and nose. Many CPAP machines now have a humidifier that can be attached, which adds moisture to the incoming air. As a result, the air flow is easier on the body. In some cases, a corticosteroid nasal spray may be recommended.

Loss of Sense of Taste and Smell with Long-term CPAP Use

It may not seem like a big deal but losing your sense of taste and smell can actually affect your eating. After all, these senses are intimately tied to our desire to have a meal, and even communicate and interact with others.

What actually causes the activity of smelling and tasting to occur? For smell, the olfactory nerve in the nose is stimulated by scents, which then transmit the signal to the brain to process. For taste, the taste buds located in the mouth, primarily on the tongue, and throat, which house gustatory (taste) nerve cells are stimulated in a reaction to seeing and smelling food. Another reaction is the prompt for saliva to be produced, which allows us to easily chew and digest our food.

For people with long-term CPAP use, the theory is that loss of taste and smell might actually be due to becoming desensitized from the smell of the CPAP machine. This can then cause the loss of taste. For individuals who might have issues with their nose, mouth or throat from long-term use, this fact can also prompt the loss of taste and smell. A trick that has been found to help is allowing the machine to use aromatherapy. Essential oils can merely be placed on a pad close to the CPAP machine’s intake. But a big no-no would be to add the scent to the water in the humidifier, because it could damage your machine.

 If you have sleep apnea and would like to learn more about other treatment options other than CPAP, we can help. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a consultation.

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