Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects an estimated 22 million Americans. If you have OSA, you temporarily stop breathing as you sleep, usually several times throughout the night. Treatment is crucial to preventing complications, such as cardiovascular issues or psychological problems. In many cases, doctors recommend treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This therapy, which is delivered via full face masks, nasal masks, and nasal pillows, provides a steady stream of air which forces your airways to remain open. You, in turn, receive the oxygen you need all throughout the night. Unfortunately, CPAP masks make some people feel claustrophobic, which prevents them from receiving effective treatment. However, it’s possible to overcome claustrophobia so you receive the oxygen you need during the night. And if you just can’t seem to manage claustrophobia on your own, your doctor can help you find other ways to get the treatment you need. Claustrophobia and the OSA Connection People who live with claustrophobia fear suffocation and enclosed spaces or restriction. It’s difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from this phobia, but some research indicates that it’s common among people who also have OSA. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you may experience symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to severe panic attacks. These problems may also cause physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath or a choking sensation, that greatly impact your quality of life. For many, claustrophobia makes it difficult to follow their doctor’s recommended treatment plan with a CPAP mask. Avoiding your CPAP mask does increase your risk for complications, and it also prevents you from simply getting a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, it’s possible to overcome this condition. Overcoming Claustrophobia Conquering claustrophobia might not happen immediately, but with patience and practice, you can minimize your symptoms while dealing with sleep apnea. Practice makes perfect. A great way to make wearing a CPAP mask easier is by practicing wearing it. Instead of only putting it on when you’re going to sleep, try putting on your mask during the day when you’re awake. You might find it beneficial to start by simply holding the mask up to your face without using the straps to secure it to your head. When you’re comfortable with that, try using the straps along with the mask to get a feel for the device. You can progressively add more of the mask attachments as you get comfortable with each step. Try working your way up to turning on your CPAP machine while using the mask with its straps and the hose attached. Once you’ve accomplished this goal, you can try sleeping with your mask on. Use relaxation techniques. Different types of relaxation techniques are great for managing stress and anxiety. You can use one or a variety of techniques, depending on what works best for you. Research shows certain relaxation exercises, such as mindfulness meditation, focusing on your breath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or repetitive prayer or phrasing can greatly help reduce anxiety in stressful situations. Talk with your doctor. There are several varieties of CPAP masks available on the market today. If you doctor recommends a full-face mask, but you’re unable to overcome feelings of claustrophobia, talking with your doctor about other options can make a tremendous difference. Many people with claustrophobia prefer nasal pillows over other types of CPAP devices. A nasal pillow directs airflow directly into your nostrils and has minimal contact with your face. Claustrophobia is a common complaint among people undergoing CPAP therapy. But it’s possible to overcome your fears so you can receive effective treatment for sleep apnea and stay healthy. Doing so takes time and patience, so don’t try to rush yourself through the process. And if you try to tackle claustrophobia at home but still have problems, talking with your doctor about other CPAP options can be key to helping you achieve better health.