Many people are familiar with adult sleep apnea and its symptoms, but are you aware that children can have this sleep disturbance too? Many of the same symptoms are evident with obstructive sleep apnea in children, and if you are a parent, this condition should be monitored and possibly treated.
Pediatric OSA Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, happens when a child stops breathing momentarily while sleeping. It can happen many times during the night. This is usually due to an obstruction in the upper airway which are the passages through the nose and mouth to the windpipe and lungs.
When this occurs, oxygen levels fall causing the interruption of sleep. This condition seems to affect children between the ages of 3 to 6.
The difference between adult sleep apnea and pediatric sleep apnea is that adults will be sleepy during the day, whereas children will have behavioral problems. The most common cause for adults is obesity and with children it is enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
Common Risk Factors
During sleep, our muscles relax, including those in our throat, which help to keep the airway open. When a child has sleep apnea, those muscles can relax too much and collapse the airway.
There are some risk factors which are common with OSA:
- A family history of obstructive sleep apnea
- A child who is overweight
- A child with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy
- Having an unusually large tongue
- Any problems that can narrow the airway like in the throat, jaw, or mouth
- A child with enlarged tonsils or adenoids
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids obstruct the airway if the muscles become too relaxed during sleep.
Signs Of OSA In Children
Snoring is a common sign, but not all children will have this symptom. However, you may hear gasps or snorts. Bedwetting, sleepwalking, and night terrors are also signs of a child with sleep apnea.
Daytime sleepiness, irritability, and mouth breathing are common signs. Children may also begin to have trouble in school and develop morning headaches. A child with sleep apnea may be misdiagnosed as having learning disabilities due to this.
Your child never reaches a deep sleep due to OSA, and therefore, never gets the healthy rest he or she needs.
What Should A Parent Do?
If you suspect your child may have obstructive sleep apnea, see Dr. Stern for an evaluation. A sleep study may be recommended for a definitive diagnosis. If the symptoms are mild, a wait and see approach may be taken.
DO have the tonsils or adenoids removed. This will usually cure the problem especially if they are enlarged.
DO work with your physician to change diet and increase exercise if your child is overweight.
DO initiate CPAP therapy to continuously provide positive airway pressure during sleep if recommended. The mask provides a steady stream of air to keep the airway open.
One thing you should NOT DO is ignore the condition. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to learning, behavioral, and growth problems. Chronic sleep apnea can cause permanent heart and lung damage to your child.
Contact Dr. Stern at (206) 910-4641 to schedule an appointment if you suspect your child may be having symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.