Drug combo may reduce sleep apnoea symptoms, new research finds

Jul 06, 2021
Sleep apnoea is more prevalent in men over the age of 30. Source: Getty

Sleep is important for people of all ages, but obstructive sleep apnoea is a common problem preventing many Baby Boomers from getting a good night’s rest. It’s estimated that about five per cent of Australians suffer from sleep apnoea, with about one in four men over the age of 30 affected.

What is sleep apnoea?

The condition impacts a person’s airways and interrupts normal breathing throughout the night, causing a lack of oxygen entering the body. In most cases, the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and cause a blockage, meaning there are periods of time where the person isn’t breathing. Because of this, it’s common for sufferers to wake up repeatedly throughout the night.

New findings

The good news is, Australian researchers may have found a solution to the debilitating condition. Researchers from the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH) at Flinders University have successful repurposed two existing medications to reduce the severity of sleep apnoea in people by at lest 30 per cent. The new findings were published in The Journal of Physiology in late June.

The researchers said previous studies showed two classes of medication, reboxetine and hyoscine butylbromide, were able to keep muscles active during sleep in people without sleep apnoea, and assist their ability to breathe. So they used a multitude of recording instruments to measure whether reboxetine and hyoscine butylbromide could successfully target the main cause of sleep apnoea. This included balancing the electrical activity of muscles around the airway, preventing the throat from collapsing while people were sleeping, and improving the regulation of carbon dioxide and breathing during sleep

Results from the study showed these medications did in fact increase the muscle activity around participants’ airways, with the drugs reducing the severity of participants’ sleep apnoea by up to one third.

Professor Danny Eckert, director of AISH, said the findings were a step in the right direction for people living with the sleep disorder. “We were thrilled because the current treatment options for people with sleep apnoea are limited and can be a painful journey for many,” he said.

“Next, we will look at the effects of these and similar medications over the longer term. We will assess whether we can harness the benefits of one drug without needing to use them both. Equally, we will test whether these treatments can be combined with other existing medications to see if we can improve their efficacy even more.”

Current treatment

While surgery is an option in some cases, CPAP is currently the best way to manage the condition. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and the machines work by delivering positive air pressure into the airway.

For more findings on sleep apnoea, head here.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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