Most parents often think that only adults suffer from sleep apnea and children aren’t affected by this disorder. But the fact is that, even children can suffer from sleep apnea. If your child is experiencing one or all of the below mentioned symptoms, he or she may be suffering from childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA:
● Makes choking or gasping noises during sleep
● Sleeps with his or her head tilted back
● Makes squeaking noise while inhaling
● Has difficulty in concentrating
● Experiencing daytime hyperactivity
OSA is less prevalent in children than it is in adults. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, up to 4% of children between the ages of 2 and 8 suffer from this disorder.
What is Childhood Sleep Apnea?
The condition of sleep apnea in children is in many ways similar to that seen in adults. During the sleep, a physical blockage in the airway in the back of the throat, like overly large tonsils or hypopneas or excess fatty tissue hinders the flow of air in and out of the child’s lungs. This causes the blood oxygen levels to sink too low during the child’s sleep.
Such a situation leads to apneas or hypopneas which are commonly referred to as abnormal breathing events. They are reductions or cessations of breathing which cause disruption in the normal sleep cycle as the child is forced to awaken. Fragmented and poor quality sleep caused by these apneas further affect the mental and physical functions of the child.
Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids is a common cause triggering sleep apnea in children and childhood obesity can also contribute to this condition in older children aged 12-18. Symptoms of sleep apnea to look out for are as follows:
● Not all, but approximately 10% of children who snore have sleep apnea
● Breathing through mouth. Children with enlarged adenoids tend to breathe through their mouth
● Breathing pauses during sleep
● Daytime sleepiness
● Behavioral issues
● Poor attention span
● Difficulty in concentration
● Poor performance in school
What Are the Associated Risk Factors?
The factors mentioned below can help you identify whether are not your child is at a risk of developing childhood sleep apnea.
● Elongated or high arched soft palate can contribute towards labored breathing thus leading to a collapse in the upper airway
● In children aged 12-18, obesity can act as a contributor to restriction in airway and snoring. It can also lead to development of excess fatty tissue in the throat
● Enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils can block the airway. Since tissues in the mouth and throat relax during sleep, they are more like to collapse and block the throat
● Seasonal allergies are mostly unlikely to be the sole cause of apnea, upper respiratory congestion and inflammatory responses can make existing symptoms worse
Treatments for sleep apnea in children include:
● If the incidences of apnea are found to be aggravated by seasonal allergies, suitable allergy medications may be prescribed
● Use of local anti-inflammatory decongestants to provide temporary relief
● Dental or oral appliances may be prescribed for older children as the growth of their facial bone is mostly complete
● If the cause is related to tonsils or adenoids then relevant medical treatment is provided
● In case of anatomical anomalies, surgical corrections of the mandibular or oral abnormalities are also recommended
Other options include non-invasive ventilation also referred to as CPAP / BiPAP in which a mask like device is fitted on the child’s face during sleep. This ensures that the oxygen levels do not fall to lower levels.
If you suspect that your child is suffering from sleep apnea, schedule an appointment for an overnight Polysomnogram (PSG) – one of the most efficient ways to diagnose sleep apnea in children. It measures brain activity, muscle movements, blood oxygen level, breathing and heart rate. Especially in case of children, end tidal CO2 is measured additionally. Untreated sleep apnea is dangerous in children, hence its best to get it diagnosed at the earliest once you notice any of the symptoms listed in this article.
Grace is a dental marketer who firmly believes in holistic health and lives by the rule that health and happiness go hand in hand. She works under the guidance of Michael G. Long, a family dentist in Fresno, CA, and writes on various dental topics that focus on healthy living and holistic wellness. When she’s not working or blogging, she enjoys spending her time with her family and volunteering at the local youth centers where she educates children about the importance of health and fitness.