Sleep Apnoea

The provision of sleep apnoea services through community pharmacies across Australia is a growing area for the sector which is benefitting patients who suffer from this condition.

Sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat come together during sleep, blocking the airways above the voice box. Breathing stops for a period of time varying from ten seconds to one minute, until the brain registers a lack of oxygen to the brain and wakes the patient. This may occur hundreds of times per night, causing fragmented sleep and therefore daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

The latest statistics indicate about 25 per cent of men over the age of 30 years have some degree of sleep apnoea, which makes it more common than asthma.

Being overweight or obese is one of the most common causes of sleep apnoea but other factors which can contribute to the condition include:

  • Alcohol consumption, especially in the evening, as this relaxes the throat muscles and hampers the brain’s reaction to sleep disordered breathing
  • certain illnesses, such as reduced thyroid production or the presence of a very large goitre
  • large tonsils, especially in children
  • medications, such as sleeping tablets and sedatives
  • nasal congestion and obstruction
  • facial bone shape and the size of muscles, such as an undershot jaw.

Community pharmacies are a great source of some treatment options for sleep apnoea as well as providing home screening kits.

If you have sleep apnoea changes to lifestyle, including losing weight and cutting down on alcohol, may be necessary. Your community pharmacy may have weight management programs which can help reduce your weight.

The most effective treatment available is a mask worn at night that prevents the throat from collapsing by transmitting increased air pressure to the collapsible segment of the throat. This is called ‘nasal continuous positive airway pressure’ (CPAP). The key to this treatment is finding a mask and machine that match the needs of a given individual with sleep apnoea. Many community pharmacies now specialise in fitting and maintaining these masks and training patients in their proper use.

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