Tips on Traveling With Sleep Apnea

 

A few years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea (breathing stoppages while sleeping, which deprives the brain of oxygen and can cause a myriad of increased health risks if not treated). I was scarily prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, with an attached air hose and a face mask to wear at night. When I stop breathing the machine is alerted to pump air into my nostrils. It was pretty intimidating and certainly an adjustment at first, but I’m more used to it now. Enough with the personal health story though, here are some tips on traveling with sleep apnea, to make the experience smoother than having actual sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea - CPAP
Pack the machine in your carry on luggage – This is the most important tip about traveling with sleep apnea. DO NOT pack your sleep machine in your checked luggage as the machine can be damaged in transit. And if you pack it in your checked baggage and the bag is misplaced, you’ll be without your CPAP. Also, be sure to empty the water from the humidifier before you jet off!

For short trips leave the humidifier behind – Particularly if you’re flying Ryanair or another discount airline and have limited carry on allowance. I’m usually fine using my CPAP machine without the humidifier, though some might have issues with a dry nose or mouth, particularly when the air in the room is colder.

If you’re running late for a flight, always remove your CPAP device before going through the security checkpoint to avoid delays. When going through security in the USA you are required to remove your CPAP device like you would a laptop computer so the x-ray machine can easily see that it’s not a bomb, since they kinda look like one. This is according to the TSA’s website and a post fittingly titled ‘Traveling with a CPAP machine.’ In Europe this is not required in some countries, but sometimes security has asked me to take the machine out of my bag and have it ran back through the x-ray machine separately regardless. So it’s best to just always remove it from your bag before they make you do it 10 minutes later as you hold up the security line.

Pack converter plugs! CPAP machines are dual voltage so that’s not an issue when traveling in different countries, but electrical outlets vary all over the world. If you forget to pack the proper converter plug, find a travel shop or ask some locals where you can buy one.

On a side note, I have some personal beef with the Aloha Nasal Pillows mask, manufactured by Respcare in Florida. CPAP masks are expensive so when you’re shelling out $80 USD or more on a mask, you expect it to last awhile. After a couple months of use the mask became unglued and I had to tape it back together, which is pretty annoying since you’re supposed to wash the pieces weekly, with pure soap containing no additives. A month later one of the side holders would not stay in place and more tape was required (taped Aloha mask pictured as item B below). This is woeful and being a consumer advocate, I decided to email the company. Thing is, I found an old box and emailed the wrong company!

Sleep Apnea masks
I instead emailed Fisher & Paykel, who manufactured my Opus Nasal Pillows mask (pictured in C above), which lasted over a year before the padding on the headgear wore out. After some confusion on their end, and me coming to realize I had emailed the wrong company, I decided to ask Fisher & Paykel if they could provide me with one of their new nasal pillows models to be included in a review for this story. Despite my seeming incompetence, they graciously said yes. But what’s more, the customer service I received, before they knew about this blog, was efficient and very friendly.

Now to the review of the Pilairo nasal pillows mask by Fisher & Paykel (pictured in D above and larger below), which has several pros and cons. The seal on the Pilairo mask is good, and Bell finds the airflow quiet (important to spouses). I do however find the nose piece a little bulky for a nasal pillows mask, which is meant to be less invasive and easier to sleep with, like the Aloha nasal pillows mask (which wasn’t durable) or the Opus nasal pillows mask which was durable. But despite being a little large, the Pilairo mask is manufactured with soft plastic and is reasonably comfortable.

I’d describe the Pilairo mask as a hybrid nasal pillow/full nasal mask given the quality of the seal, so if you have issues with seal quality in some nasal pillows masks, but still want to sleep on your side, the Pilairo might be a good mask for you. If you’re accustomed to sleeping with a standard nasal pillows mask, the Pilairo might take a few nights rest to get accustomed to (as it did for me). As for durability, I’ve only owned the Pilairo a month so I can’t say for sure how long it will hold up, but it appears to be better quality than the Aloha mask, albeit the price tag on the Pilairo is a fair bit higher. Given that my other 3 masks currently serve as backups, I do sleep with the Pilairo mask most nights now.

CPAP machine
For context, item A is the first CPAP mask ever given to me, by my old Dutch insurance company. This fully covers your nose and provides a good seal so air doesn’t leak while you sleep- the downside is that it’s not comfortable to sleep on your side with. And then there’s the CPAP machine, which looks like a bomb, so be sure to unpack it before going through security fellow sleep apnea travellers!

Mask
While the Pilairo mask was provided free of charge for this post, it has not impacted my review. The pros and cons have been listed and who I believe the mask is suited for, and who I don’t think it’s as suited for has been outlined. 

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