As a person whose been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, you know that you experience periods without breath while you sleep. In most cases, this is due to obstruction of your upper airway caused by the partial collapse of your windpipe or a blockage by your tongue or soft palate. But, did you know that not only is your breathing affected, but the function of your Eustachian tubes is also impaired?

Eustachian tubes are responsible for equalizing the pressures in your ear and upper airway. They are easily blocked by the same mechanisms that cause obstructive sleep apnea. When these tubes are obstructed and unable to promote inner ear equilibrium, your inner ear is likely to become swollen and irritated. This can result in feeling like you’re always trying to “pop” your ears, hearing ringing in one or both ears, or even infections. This problem is solved through continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP therapy.

Can CPAP Therapy Cause Ear Problems?

Despite being the most effective way to treat sleep apnea, CPAP therapy can occasionally be the

cause of chronic inner ear pain or discomfort. If your CPAP pressure is not high enough, your airway may not be opening like it should, meaning your treatment for sleep apnea isn’t completely effective and that your Eustachian tubes are still blocked. Not only frustrating and damaging to your ears, this ineffective treatment means that you’re still at risk for the serious health consequences of untreated sleep apnea such as stroke and diabetes.

On the flip side, if your CPAP pressure is too high, your Eustachian tubes may not be able to keep your inner ear and pharynx at equalized pressures. This means that your tubes will be forced open, making your inner ear prone to swelling and infection but with no way to drain or change pressures.

Should I Quit CPAP Therapy If I’m Getting Ear Problems?

You shouldn’t quit treatment with your CPAP machine because of ear problems. The best option is to discuss your chronic pain with your doctor and follow up with a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat conditions. These specialists see a lot of CPAP related ear issues and will be able to easily determine the cause of your ear discomfort, whether they’re from low or high pressures. While you wait to see a physician, ensure that you’re able to breath out your nose so that your sinuses are free of pressure problems. You might need to take over the counter nasal decongestants or vigorously irrigate your nostrils using a neti pot.

Maybe It’s Your Sleep Apnea Mask

For some sleep apnea sufferers, their sleep apnea mask is the cause of the problem. If you’re experiencing ear issues and are using nasal pillows or a nasal mask with your CPAP machine, a full face mask like the Fisher and Paykel Forma mask may help keep forced air evenly distributed in your airway, lessening the chance of dramatic pressure changes. You can find this mask and all your other sleep apnea treatment needs at Don’t allow ear pain to ruin your sleep apnea treatment. Talk to your doctor today.