Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep apnea in children is more common that many people realize and is not always easy for parents to recognize. There are two primary types of pediatric sleep apnea - Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).

CSA happens when the body's systems that regulate breathing don't work correctly because they are either under developed or ineffective.

Central Sleep Apnea is often seen in newborns and babies under nine months old. Fortunately, as these babies grow and develop, their systems mature and they often outgrow their symptoms.

OSA usually occurs in older babies, toddlers, and young children. Research indicates that between 1% and 3% of preschoolers may suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Recognizing Sleep Apnea in Children

The main symptom of Central Sleep Apnea in babies is irregular breathing, coupled with periods when breathing stops altogether. Sometimes a baby may gag, turn blue or gray, or appear limp. This is a result of lack of oxygen and can be life-threatening.

Although, an irregular breathing pattern is often quite normal and nothing to worry about, if breathing stops for more than 6 to 8 seconds in babies you need to have your baby evaluated by a doctor right away. If you are ever concerned about the regularity of your baby's respiration, seek a doctor's opinion right away.

The main symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children are irregular or labored breathing, interspersed with periods of non-breathing, and usually accompanied by snoring.

Research shows that between 10% and 20% of children snore regularly, or intermittently. Of course, not all those cases are due to OSA.

Snoring can be a result of enlarged adenoids or tonsils, allergies, upper respiratory tract infections, being overweight, and more. It's important to let a doctor examine and evaluate your child if he or she snores.

Causes of Childhood Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea in children has several possible causes. In premature babies and infants, an under-developed respiratory system is often to blame. In older babies and children, the causes are more complex.

Physical problems such as enlarged adenoids or tonsils, a cleft palate, facial abnormalities, being overweight, allergies or certain conditions such as Downs' Syndrome can also be at the root of childhood sleep apnea.

What Can Happen with OSA

childhood sleep apnea

Snoring, irregular respiration, and periods when breathing stops altogether are among the most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea in children. But there are other, less obvious and often overlooked signs that something may be wrong.

Like any other sleep disorder, childhood sleep apnea causes sufferers to lose sleep - and sleep deprivation leads to all sorts of health and behavioral problems. As a result, babies and children with sleep apnea may suffer from any of the following:

  • Failure to thrive - A child who is deprived of adequate sleep may grow more slowly than normal. His or her weight gain may be poor, and physical development could be delayed. During sleep, growth hormones are released. If your child is consistently losing sleep, the distribution of these hormones may be affected, resulting in slower-than-normal growth and development.
  • Other sleep disorders - Children with sleep apnea can also show symptoms of other sleep disorders such as night terrors, nightmares, and sleep talking.
  • Strange sleeping positions - To breathe more easily, some children adopt odd or unusual sleeping positions, remain in the same position for extended periods, and get irritable if disturbed or forced to change position.Of course, children are very flexible and move around in their sleep quite a bit. Just because your child likes to sleep with his bottom stuck up in the air, it doesn't mean he has sleep apnea. But if he has other symptoms of this condition as well, a trip to the doctor may be in order.
  • Behavioral problems - Too little sleep can lead to irritability and acting out. Behavioral problems can include issues with hyper-activity, excessive daytime sleepiness, discipline problems, aggression, depression, poor concentration and more. These are similar to the results of sleep deprivation in adults.
  • Heart problems - The strain that sleep apnea puts on the circulatory system may cause heart problems or blood pressure issues. While rare in children, it can occur more often as one of the symptoms of sleep apnea in adults.

Treating Sleep Apnea in Children

The first step towards treating childhood sleep apnea is to have your doctor examine and evaluate your child. He or she may refer you to a pediatric ear-nose-and-throat (ENT) specialist for further diagnosis and treatment.

It is vital to seek medical help if your child is experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea. The condition can cause dangerous health issues and will not improve without help.

For some children with sleep apnea, surgery to remove enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids can takes care of the problem. This is the most common cause of sleep apnea in children.

If other cranio-facial problems are creating the sleep disorder, there are other surgical and non-invasive treatment options your doctor will discuss with you.

Allergies can be treated with antihistamines and other appropriate medications, as can recurring upper respiratory tract infections.

If none of these solutions are appropriate, your physician may prescribe breathing therapy with aCPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure.

This treatment involves providing your child with ongoing air flow during sleep through a face mask that is hooked up to a small oxygen machine. The continuous delivery of air keeps the airways open and breathing regular. CPAP is also the most commonly prescribed, and effective, treatment for sleep apnea in adults.

If you think your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Once a diagnosis of childhood sleep apnea has been made, treatment can generally alleviate both the underlying problem and the symptoms.

A child who isn't sleeping well needs help... and so do his parents. Therefore, it's important to act quickly. Early diagnosis is the key. 

Related Information - Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep Disorders in Children
Children and Sleep Problems
Insomnia in Children
Sleep Terror Disorder
Bed Wetting Sleep Disorder
Sleep Hygiene

› Child Sleep Apnea

Share Sleep Tips

Do you have a great tip to share with others who are struggling with sleep? What works for you might help someone else. 
Click here to post >>

Mobility and Disability Resources