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What is CPAP Claustrophobia?

Posted On January 12, 2015
January 12, 2015

Getting on an elevator makes your heart race. The thought of needing an MRI to evaluate your torn ACL makes your non-injured leg quake. You have had claustrophobia your whole life. And now, learning that you have sleep apnea and need continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat this condition, has sent you into a full-fledged panic attack. What can you do? Is there such a thing as CPAP claustrophobia?

What is Claustrophobia?

People who are fearful of being in close spaces, at times irrationally, are said to suffer from claustrophobia. Whether getting on an elevator filled with people to even traveling by plane, claustrophobics experience great anxiety when placed in these situations. Depending on the severity of their phobia, symptoms can be any or all of the following:

  • Increased heart rate, over breathing and/or tightness in chest
  • Sweating, lightheadedness, dizziness and/or fainting
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Panic attacks

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea, specifically, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), occurs when there is a partial or full obstruction of a person’s airway that prevents him or her from proper breathing during the night. The OSA sufferer has pauses in breath lasting from seconds to minutes, and anywhere from five to over 30 times per hour throughout sleep. When breathing is interrupted, the proper amount of oxygen is not circulating throughout the body.

When treated, the proper amount of oxygen is present in the person’s circulation and most if not all sleep apnea symptoms disappear. Some symptoms associated with sleep apnea are:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Snoring
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory Loss

What is CPAP Claustrophobia?

Although there are new treatments, such as radiofrequency ablation that can actually cure sleep apnea, the gold standard is CPAP therapy. Patients who have been prescribed CPAP as a sleep apnea treatment option wear a mask over their nose while asleep. The CPAP device is designed to prevent airway obstruction, which is the primary cause of sleep apnea breathing pauses. Through a pressurized stream of air, the upper airway is held open, which in turn is filtered through the mask. Unfortunately when you are claustrophobic, the thought of a CPAP mask can very well make you anxious and instill fear.

A 2005 study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research evaluated whether or not CPAP claustrophobia impacted compliance with this sleep apnea treatment option. Based on 153 test participants, researchers discovered that people with claustrophobia were statistically not using the CPAP mask over people without this fear.

Fortunately, there are number of tips for someone who might suffer from CPAP claustrophobia and really need to improve his or her health with this treatment option.

Masks come in various styles and sizes. In order to treat sleep apnea, you do not necessarily need to use a mask that covers the entire face and straps across your cheeks and forehead. You might be able to tolerate a CPAP mask that has nasal pillows and stays in place with a less all-encompassing strap.

Take baby steps for early use. On day one, you do not need to wear the mask for the entire night. On the evening of the first night, try just putting the mask up to your face to see how you can tolerate it. On the following evening, practice putting the straps on, and then see if you can wear the mask while watching TV or reading a book. The next night, tack on another 10 to 15 minutes of wear, and the same on subsequent nights. Once this is fairly easy for you, graduate to wearing the mask with the air turned on. Hopefully before you know it, the feeling of CPAP claustrophobia will disappear and you will be able to get the treatment you need for your sleep apnea.

Relax! If you can develop an overall plan to relax and decrease your anxiety, inevitably you will be able to use your CPAP machine without any phobic symptoms. Practicing meditation, learning relaxation exercises and listening to calm and soothing music can help in keeping CPAP claustrophobia at bay.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.

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