How Do I Control My Sleep Apnea?

Published: July 29, 2022
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to temporarily decrease or stop breathing repeatedly during sleep due to the collapse of soft tissue and muscles in your upper airway. Many other medical conditions are associated with sleep apnea including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders, diabetes, and depression. Sleep apnea is also associated with a higher rate of injuries and motor vehicle accidents.


What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?
Doctors often state that sleep apnea is first suspected by your sleep partner, with comments about loud snoring, multiple awakenings, frequent trips to the bathroom, and gasping or choking repeatedly during the night. More subtle symptoms such as morning headache, dry mouth upon wakening, irritability, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

What causes sleep apnea?
The most common risk factor for sleep apnea is obesity. Other risk factors include age—over 40 years of age for men or being post-menopausal for women—smoking, or a neck measurement of more than 16 inches.

What should I do if I have some of these symptoms and risk factors?
If you have some or most of the above symptoms, you may have sleep apnea. However, for a doctor to diagnose this condition, it is necessary to have a sleep study to confirm the symptoms. You likely will need to spend a night in a sleep laboratory, but in some instances, you can perform this test in your home. The test involves placing monitors on your body to measure the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate, and breathing. The results of this test will guide your doctor in recommending a treatment for you.

How do you get rid of sleep apnea?
If your doctor determines that you have sleep apnea, he will outline a treatment plan for you. You probably will receive a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) medical device to provide airway pressure through the nose, mouth, or both. You may need another sleep study so your doctor can titrate the CPAP for your needs. Be sure to follow up with your doctor or equipment provider if you have questions or do not feel comfortable with your device. There are several mask types to select from to best suit your preference. A humidifier with your CPAP will help reduce or prevent a dry mouth. Using the CPAP correctly and consistently is the most important part of your treatment. Using a CPAP machine at night may feel awkward at first but using it correctly and every night is critical to the improvement of sleep apnea.

Although CPAP is the preferred treatment for sleep apnea, another device that some doctors may prescribe is an appliance that fits in your mouth. It keeps the jaw in a forward position to keep the airway open.

Other suggestions to manage sleep apnea include:

  • Weight loss (if indicated)
  • Sleeping on your side (not on your back)
  • Exercise
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol or other sedatives before sleep

How can my pharmacist help with my sleep apnea treatment?
Your pharmacist is an excellent resource to help you with your sleep apnea treatment. Ask your pharmacist to review your current medications to see if any could contribute to your sleep apnea.

Medications such as opioids, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, and steroids can make sleep apnea worse. Certain antidepressants and antipsychotics can cause weight gain and contribute to your sleep apnea.

If you find that you have dry mouth after the use of your CPAP, your pharmacist can also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) sprays, gels, and rinses to moisturize your mouth to relieve this side effect.

Prescription medications are also available to increase the production of saliva, such as pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac). Ask your pharmacist to review your prescription and OTC medications to make sure they aren’t adding to your dry mouth discomfort.

If your doctor has recommended that you stop smoking as part of your treatment plan, ask your pharmacist to suggest medications and nicotine replacement products to assist you in this effort. These replacement products include patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers.

Sleep apnea is a persistent condition that can significantly affect your health. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have sleep apnea symptoms. Effective treatments are available and can lead to a vast improvement in your sleep and overall health.

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