Download BetterSleep
4.8 in Health & Fitness
(4.8)
Get the App Get the App
sleep / lifestyle

Sleep Apnea in Children

by BetterSleep
Sep 15 • 8 min read
SHARE IT
Copied!

Pediatric sleep apnea affects up to 5 percent of children. Unfortunately, this pediatric sleep disorder goes undiagnosed, causing a child to miss out on healthy, restful sleep.

Recently, researchers conducted a sleep study to determine whether parents consider symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing as a health problem that requires medical attention. While the findings reveal that most parents were concerned about their child’s breathing difficulty, they did not consider it an issue needing immediate medical help.

Studies reveal that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can adversely impact a child’s well-being. This article provides information about childhood sleep apnea so parents can readily address the issue if they suspect their child has it.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated episodes of breathing interruption during sleep. These episodes last 10 to 30 seconds and can occur hundreds of times throughout the night. A person with sleep apnea may suffer from disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue. Sleep apnea can lead to heart problems and other serious health complications if left untreated.

There are two main types of sleep apnea, which are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea- is the most common type and occurs when the throat muscles relax and collapse during sleep, blocking the airway.
  • Central sleep apnea- occurs when the brain fails to signal to the forces to control breathing. Most common in people over age 65 because they are likely to have medical conditions linked to this type of disordered breathing during sleep.

Tell me the difference between sleep apnea in adults and children.

In children, sleep apnea is linked to enlarged adenoid glands and tonsils that cause upper airway obstruction during sleep. Neuromuscular disorders and craniofacial abnormalities can also disrupt normal breathing and sleep apnea.

In adults, sleep apnea is often linked to obesity. According to the Obesity Medicine Association, excess body weight can cause increased pressure and lowered neuromuscular control in the upper airway disrupting standard breathing patterns.

How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosed in Children?

Doctors diagnose obstructive sleep apnea in children through a physical examination, which includes checking for enlarged tonsils or adenoids. The practitioner will also look for signs, such as daytime sleepiness, poor academic performance, and behavioral problems.

Another way to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea in children and adults is through a sleep study. Under a sleep study, the child spends a night at a sleep lab and is monitored overnight. The sleep specialist identifies how often the child stops breathing during the night and how much this impacts their sleep quality.

Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

Obstructive sleep apnea affects children, especially young children between ages 2 and 6.

Other than enlarged tonsils and adenoids, below are other risk factors that can cause obstructive sleep apnea in children:

  • neuromuscular disorders;
  • craniofacial abnormalities;
  • obesity;
  • low-birth-weight
  • Down Syndrome
  • family history of sleep

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Children

The common symptoms of sleep apnea in children are loud snoring, interrupted breathing, and gasping for air. Other symptoms of sleep apnea in children may include restless sleep, night sweats, bedwetting, morning headaches, and daytime fatigue.

Some children with pediatric obstructive sleep apnea may also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, so they are likely to have trouble paying attention and focusing at school.

How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?

If you think you might have sleep apnea, it’s essential to see a doctor so they can figure out the best treatment for you. Some people may need more than one type of treatment to get their sleep apnea under control. Below are the different types of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea in children:

CPAP Treatment

Children with OSA typically snore loudly and have difficulty breathing during sleep. The mainstay of treatment is continuous positive airway pressure, a machine that helps keep the child’s nasal passages and airway open.

Continuous positive airway pressure is a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea that involves wearing a mask during sleep. The mask provides gentle pressure to keep the airway open.

CPAP therapy aims to promote good sleep quality through unobstructed breathing. This treatment can be used alternately with facial surgeries as the child grows. Resorting to airway pressure therapy mitigates symptoms and other health risks associated with sleep-disordered breathing.

Surgery

Medical practitioners often recommend surgical procedures if the child does not respond well to the CPAP treatment. Moreover, sleep apnea symptoms worsen as children become adolescents due to the more prominent airway muscles.

One of the most common surgical procedures to treat OSA in children is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). The procedure involves removing the tonsils, adenoids, and some tissue from the back of the throat. This procedure can be pretty effective, but it does have some risks, such as bleeding and infection.

Another common surgical procedure for treating OSA in children is called maxillomandibular advancement (MMA). This procedure involves moving the jaw forward to create more space in the airway. This can be an effective treatment, but it does require a hospital stay and some recovery time.

Weight Loss

Studies suggest that weight loss is an effective treatment for childhood obstructive sleep apnea. In a study of children with suspected OSA, obese children are likely to manifest common OSA symptoms such as snoring and gasping.

Weight loss can help treat OSA by reducing the amount of fat around the neck and chest, improving airflow, and preventing obstruction. For children who are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference.

Positional therapy

Positional therapy is a type of treatment that involves sleeping in a certain position to reduce the risk of obstruction. It can be helpful for children who snore or have apnea when they sleep on their backs. Sleeping on the side of the stomach can help to keep the airway open.

Positioning your child on their stomach or side during sleep can help prevent airway collapse that leads to apnea. If your child has OSA, talk to their doctor about whether positional therapy might be right for them.

Oral appliances

An oral appliance is a small device worn in the mouth during sleep. Oral appliances treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by keeping the airway open. A study shows that oral appliances can effectively reduce the severity of OSA symptoms. Children who used an oral appliance had fewer episodes of apnea and snoring than those who did not use an appliance.

Oral appliances are a safe and effective treatment for childhood OSA. If your child has OSA, talk to their doctor about whether an oral appliance might be right for them.

Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes are a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea that involve changing lifestyle and habits. Studies have shown that behavioral changes can effectively reduce the severity of OSA symptoms. In one study, children who made behavioral changes had fewer episodes of apnea and snoring than those who did not make changes.

Behavioral changes can include avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, sleeping on your side or stomach, losing weight, and quitting smoking. If your child has OSA, talk to their doctor about whether behavioral changes might be right for them.

Importance of Testing for Sleep Apnea

Children must be tested for sleep apnea before beginning any treatment to rule out underlying conditions. Parents must talk to a medical practitioner about the possibility of sleep apnea and ensure their child is appropriately diagnosed and treated.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children FAQs

Welcome to our FAQ section on Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children! Here, we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this condition.

How can I tell if my child has sleep apnea?

Parents can look for a few signs at home to determine whether or not their child may have sleep apnea. These include snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, daytime fatigue or irritability, and difficulty concentrating during the day. If your child exhibits any of these signs, it is essential to consult a doctor to determine if sleep apnea is the cause.

What are some common causes of sleep apnea in children?

There are several potential causes of sleep apnea in children. Some common causes include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, narrow airway passages, and neurological conditions that affect breathing. In some cases, the cause of sleep apnea may be unknown.

How is sleep apnea treated in children?

Treatment for sleep apnea in children typically begins with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if necessary. Medical practitioners may recommend surgery or other interventions to improve the condition. The procedure may include removing enlarged tonsils or adenoids, using a CPAP machine, or surgically correcting any anatomical abnormalities causing sleep apnea.

What are the long-term effects of sleep apnea in children?

Sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and irregular heartbeat. Sleep apnea can also cause problems with growth and development in children. Treatment for sleep apnea is essential to prevent these potential complications.

Is sleep apnea curable in children?

There is no cure for sleep apnea, but there are instances when it automatically resolves on its own as the child grows older and their airway becomes less obstructed. However, in other cases, sleep apnea may persist into adulthood and require lifelong management.

What does a child with sleep apnea sound like?

A child with sleep apnea may sound like they are snoring, gasping, or choking during sleep. These noises occur when the child’s airway becomes blocked, and they are unable to breathe correctly. If you think your child may have sleep apnea, it is essential to consult with a doctor to give a proper diagnosis and treatment.

How can I prevent my child from getting sleep apnea?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent sleep apnea, but there are some things that you can do to reduce your child’s risk. These include avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and ensuring that the child’s bedroom is free of allergens or other irritants that could trigger an attack.

Is sleep apnea in toddlers life-threatening?

Yes, sleep apnea can be life-threatening if it is not treated. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and irregular heartbeat. It is essential to consult with a doctor if you think your child may have sleep apnea for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Can a 2-year-old have sleep apnea?

Yes, a 2-year-old can have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common problem in children and can occur at any age. If you think your child may have sleep apnea, it is essential to consult with a doctor to give a proper diagnosis and treatment.

How do sleep specialists use a sleep study to diagnose OSA?

The patient will spend the night in the sleep lab and be connected to machines that record their sleep. The machines will record the brain waves, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, and breathing. The sleep specialist will use the information from the sleep study to see if the person has OSA.

What are the signs of sleep apnea in infants?

The signs of sleep apnea in infants may include noisy breathing, pauses in breathing, or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. These episodes can last for a few seconds to minutes and may occur several times throughout the night. If you think your child may have sleep apnea, it is essential to consult with a doctor to give a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Can a child outgrow sleep apnea?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, as the treatment for sleep apnea in toddlers and children will vary depending on the individual case. In some cases, sleep apnea may resolve independently as the child ages and their airway becomes less obstructed. However, in other cases, sleep apnea may persist into adulthood and require lifelong management. If you think your child may have sleep apnea, it is essential to consult with a doctor to give a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Wrap Up

Sleep apnea is a common problem in children that can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. Treatment for sleep apnea is vital to prevent these potential complications.

To learn more about sleep apnea in children, please explore the Bettersleep.com website. We have a wealth of resources and information to help you better understand this condition and how to treat it.

Thanks for reading!

SHARE IT
Copied!
About Us

Join us on a restful journey to sleep.

BetterSleep helps you fall asleep easily with soothing sounds, sleep meditations, bedtime stories, breathing exercises and much more.

Combine the different features and mix them together to create your own perfect sleep sanctuary!

Download BetterSleep now and join a community of millions of people we help guide to sleep every night.

Recent Posts
Popular Posts
Follow Us on Instagram
Get Weekly News Updates
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive weekly updates by email!
Thank you
A valid email address is required
An error occured, please try again.
Try BetterSleep
Try BetterSleep by registering online and start your sleep journey today!
Try BetterSleep by registering online and start your sleep journey today!
Try BetterSleep for free
Also available in