People's Pharmacy answers reader queries about the best way to take aspirin for a heart attack; medications that may interfere with sleep; and how the potassium nitrate in sensitivity-preventing toothpaste can treat asthma.

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Q: Why isn’t there a soluble 325-mg aspirin tablet available in the U.S.? I carry two 325-mg tablets in my coin purse at all times and have read that one should take aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack, while simultaneously calling 911.

Is it better to dissolve the aspirin in my mouth or in water before ingesting it? Would soluble aspirin be more effective? Or is simply swallowing one or two aspirin with a glass of water equally effective?

A: We are not sure why soluble aspirin has never caught on in this country as it has in Europe (by the brand names Aspro and Disprin). Dissolvable aspirin is available in the U.S. only in combination products such as Alka-Seltzer or BC Powder.

You may be pleased to learn, however, that simply chewing a standard 325-mg aspirin tablet for 30 seconds and then swallowing it with 4 ounces of water is the best way to get its effects quickly (American Journal of Cardiology, Aug. 15, 1999).

This technique produces measurable anti-clotting benefits within five minutes, compared with 12 minutes after swallowing an intact pill. If chewing regular aspirin is challenging, you can buy flavored chewable low-dose aspirin and achieve a similar effect.

Q: Every time I read that sleep is essential for good health, I want to scream. I would love a good night’s sleep because I know it would boost my immune system and help me control my weight as well as improve my outlook and my memory. I worry that my chronic insomnia is making my allergies, high blood pressure and depression worse.

No matter what I try, though, nothing works. That includes sleeping pills, herbs and melatonin. Is there anything that can help me get a few hours of decent sleep?

A: If you take medications for hypertension, allergies or depression, it is possible that these drugs could be contributing to your insomnia.

Many medications, including beta blockers like atenolol and metoprolol, can interfere with sleep quality. So can antidepressants such as fluoxetine and sertraline or decongestants like pseudoephedrine. Such drugs could be keeping you awake.

Some people tell us that 250 to 500 mg of magnesium at bedtime helps them. Others find relaxation tapes allow them to ease into sleep.

Q: After reading that potassium nitrate in sensitivity-preventing toothpaste could help with asthma and cat allergies, I tried it. I checked with my dentist first and got the OK.

I frequently used to have some type of cold or allergies, but in the two years since I started, I’ve not had either. I don’t know of anything else that could be responsible, and it is certainly a simple change to make.

A: The potassium nitrate found in some products for sensitive teeth was once used as an asthma treatment. Some other readers have also found it helpful against allergy symptoms.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website: