Sleep apnea in children: Understanding the risk

April 28, 2017 |  by  |  Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea in children is a common problem in children. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects the way children breathe during sleep. Sleep apnea in children occurs when the breathing stops for a period of time and the resumes. This cycle goes on and on and can happen numerous times during the night. Adults who have sleep apnea are often overweight and can recall being woken up numerous times during the night. In children this is different which is why it often makes diagnosing sleep apnea in children. By understanding the symptoms of sleep apnea in children one can have a better knowledge of what to look for in their own kids. Keep in mind that not all children will present with the same symptoms.

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Key signs of sleep apnea in children

While snoring is a common symptom in children it is also important to note that many healthy children will also snore. Recent studies have shown that more than 20 percent of children do snore and have no underlying medical conditions. Some of the other key signs of sleep apnea in children include:

  • Weight loss or very slow weight gain. Check with your doctor about other underlying medical conditions as well as what is a healthy weight for your child
  • Children who breath with their mouth
  • A history of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Removal of the tonsils can cure sleep apnea in children.
  • Problems falling asleep or restless sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Daytime behavioral issues and cognitive problems. These often include problems paying attention, problems staying focused, aggressive behavior, irritability, mood swings, high levels of frustration and hyperactivity at school

These are just a few of the key signs to be on the lookout for. Remember that many of the above listed symptoms can also be signs of other medical conditions. Your child’s primary care doctor can advise you if your child may be suffering from sleep apnea. The good news is that apnea in children is often a result of enlarged tonsils and this can be corrected by surgery.

Treatment for sleep apnea in children

Treatment will be based on the underlying cause. In most cases the cause will be that of enlarged tonsils. The tonsils are removed and in most cases the sleep apnea will no longer be an issue for your child. If surgery is not needed, your doctor will determine the underlying causes. Sleep apnea in toddlers is seldom caused by weight issues but if your child is overweight the sleep apnea could be related to the weight. If this is the case your doctor will choose to deal with the weight issues first in hopes that once the weight loss has been achieved the sleep apnea will be resolved.

cpap-machine-treatment-for-sleep-apnea-in-childrenChildhood sleep apnea can also be treated by certain nasal sprays and medications if the underlying cause is due to nasal problems. Constant congestion can lead to sleep apnea. Since children are often prone to allergies and once the allergies are treated the child sleep apnea will also be resolved.

The treatment when surgery is not needed for children and sleep apnea is often that of a machine known as a CPAP machine. CPAP machines are medical devices that help regulate air pressure as the child sleeps. These are usually in the form of a mask that can cover the face or nasal passages. Children generally respond very well to this form of treatment. Although it may take the child a little time to adjust to wearing a mask while the sleep the overall prognosis for children and sleep apnea is good.

Children with Down’s Syndrome are at a high risk for developing in sleep apnea in children. If your child has Down’s Syndrome they should be closely watched for the above signs and symptom’s of sleep apnea in children. Other medical conditions that have a higher level of risk for developing sleep apnea include abnormalities of the cranium and face such as Pierre Robin sequence, Treacher Collins syndrome and Crouzon Syndrome. These three syndromes have a high level of risk of developing sleep apnea in children.

As with any medical condition the key to sleep apnea in children is early diagnosis. Since in most cases sleep apnea is treatable the chances of your children being able to live a normal and productive life are very high. Work with your child’s doctor if you feel that your child may have sleep apnea.


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