A nasal spray could be the key to treating sleep apnea

It shows promise in preventing the narrowing or collapse of the upper airways during sleep.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The new treatment is an alternative to CPAP machines..jpg
The new treatment is an alternative to CPAP machines.


Researchers from Flinders University have tested for the first time a new drug for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in the form of a nasal spray, according to a press release published by the institution on Thursday.

Preventing upper airway collapse

The new method works to prevent the narrowing or collapse of the upper airways during sleep, a key factor in OSA. The new approach could provide a potential alternative for certain people with OSA to the little tolerated continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.

“While further rigorous clinical evaluation and testing is required, this is a great first step and should offer some hope to the many people worldwide who suffer from sleep apnoea,” says study senior author Professor Danny Eckeart, Director of Flinders’ sleep lab FHMRI: Sleep Health. 

“OSA is one of the most common sleep-related breathing disorders, with an estimated one billion sufferers, and when untreated is associated with major health and safety consequences. While CPAP machines are effective, tolerance remains a major issue for many and other treatments such as dental splints and upper airway surgery don’t always work. This is why we need new treatment options for OSA.

A nasal spray could be the key to treating sleep apnea
Sleep apnea machines are often poorly tolerated.

“At the moment, there are no approved drug treatments for OSA. However, with advances in our understanding of the different reasons people get OSA, the potential for effective new medications is growing stronger each year.”

The study counted only 12 subjects who were treated for OSA using either nasal drops, a nasal spray or via direct application using an endoscope, versus a placebo. Despite its small segment of patients, it did show promising results.

The subjects were monitored for sleep and airway activity across several sessions and were found to showcase consistent and sustained improvements in their airways staying open throughout sleep, compared to the placebo treatment. This fact remained true regardless of the delivery method used. 

A small study but a promising one

“Although a small study, our findings represent the first detailed investigation of this new treatment in people with OSA, with promising results,” says study lead author Dr Amal Osman from FHMRI: Sleep Health.

“The drug we tested is designed to target specific receptors that are expressed on the surface of the upper airways, triggering them more easily to activate the surrounding muscles to keep the airway open during sleep. While there’s still a long way to go in terms of clinical testing and development, our study shows targeting these receptors may be a promising avenue for future treatments.”

The study was published in the journal Chest.


K+ channel inhibition has been identified in animal models as a potential target to increase pharyngeal dilator muscle activity and treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, these findings have not yet been translated to humans.

Does a novel, potent, TASK 1/3 channel antagonist, BAY2586116, improve pharyngeal collapsibility in pigs and humans and secondarily, what is the optimal dose and mode of topical application?



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