There are many unlikely combinations in life: peanut butter and fluff, chicken fingers and ranch, CPAPs and dry eye.

Ok, so maybe the last pair doesn’t come with an (arguably) delicious taste. But it’s a combination you’ll want to be aware of if you use a CPAP to help improve your nighttime sleep.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is a device frequently prescribed for treating sleep apnea. While a CPAP can be very effective at helping people get more oxygen while they sleep, those using this type of machine also have a higher rate of dry eye.

Do you use a CPAP and now you’re feeling worried? Don’t worry, there are ways to help prevent dry eye and treat it if it does occur. Curious what these are? We won’t leave you hanging without answers, but first…

Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when your eyes don’t make enough tears or you’re unable to maintain a layer of tears to coat your eyes.

This lack of tears can result in inflammation and damage to the eye’s surface over time.

You might suspect you have dry eye if you experience:

  • red, burning, or irritated eyes
  • blurred vision
  • stringy mucus coming out of the eyes
  • a scratchy, gritty feeling like something is trapped in the eye
  • light sensitivity

CPAP machines are designed to provide steady, consistent air pressure, so oxygen will travel through the user’s airways. However, many CPAP users experience air leaks from their machines, which can cause a constant air flow over their eyes.

This is particularly true when the machine’s mask is too big or small or otherwise incorrectly shaped to fit well. Eventually, this can lead to eye irritation, swelling, and dryness. Left unaddressed, this can become a chronic problem.

Additionally, many people who use a CPAP have other medical conditions like hypertension and type2 diabetes. Because these conditions are independently associated with dry eye, it’s possible that they are also contributing to dry eye.

Researchers have found that CPAP users who are female, older, or have other inflammatory and metabolic conditions are most likely to have dry eye. The likelihood of dry eye also increases with the length of time that the CPAP machine is used.

If you find yourself with dry eyes from your CPAP, you may want to:

  • make sure you’re wearing your CPAP properly and that all parts are in good condition.
  • use a CPAP with a humidifier to add heated moisture into the air circulating through the machine
  • clean your CPAP regularly on the manufacturer’s suggested schedule
  • avoid applying oily moisturizers at night around the mouth and nose where the mask attaches. This can prevent a good seal from forming and encourage leaks.
  • talk with your doctor about using a lubricant for your eyes at night to provide extra moisture and protect your eyes from drying out

It’s worth noting that using tape to prevent airflow to the eyes is not an effective answer. Researchers found that not only does this fail to fix dry eye symptoms, but it can increase the symptoms of dry eye.

If you get chronic dry eye:

  • you can try eye drops or artificial tears to increase the moisture in your eyes
  • use a humidifier to increase moisture in the air
  • ask your doctor about prescription medication and other medical treatment options
  • practice blinking more frequently
  • increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
  • take regular breaks when staring at a screen for a long time

CPAP use can lead to a higher chance of dry eye. But the health value a CPAP provides for those with sleep apnea is so high that it’s important not to stop using it just because of dry eye. If you’re having problems with your eyes, talk with your doctor.

Dry eye is seen more commonly in people who use a CPAP, which means that it’s important to watch for signs of dry eye if you use a CPAP to help you breathe while asleep.

To avoid getting dry eye from your CPAP, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s directions. You’ll also want to avoid doing things that can cause it not to seal correctly around your nose and mouth. Some treatment suggestions might include eye drops, prescription medications, or even just a humidifier.