Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

April 28, 2017 |  by  |  Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea in children occurs when a child stops breathing during sleep. This sleeping disorder affects many children however it is most commonly seen in children between the ages of 2 and 6. The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children is often due to enlarged tonsils. Sleep apnea occurs during sleep. When one sleeps there is a considerable decrease in muscle tone and the muscles become more relaxed. As the muscles become more relaxed the airway is affected and thus will affect the breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea in children can be a serious medical condition and parents should have the children checked out if the notice patterns of breathing where the children may be gasping for air. It is also important to note that many of these children will have no issues breathing when they are awake. Since the decreased muscle tone occurs during sleep, the airway becomes smaller. As the airways become smaller the tonsils and adenoids block the airway. All of this will make the flow of air more difficult. As the air flow is more difficult the breathing is harder and thus causes obstructive sleep apnea.


Obstructive sleep apnea in children is much more common in children who are overweight or obese. While not all children who have this form of sleeping disorder will be overweight in fact there is a rather large percent of children who are thin or of average weight that also have this disorder. Children with Down’s syndrome are also more prone to obstructive sleep apnea in children.

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

Parents should be on the lookout for the following symptoms. Always keep in mind that the symptoms will vary from child to child and not all children will present with the symptoms listed below:

  • Loud snoring or noisy breathing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Sleeping in odd positions- be on the lookout for children who sleep with their neck arched. Children do that in order to open the airway and this is cause for concern
  • Behavior problems or extreme tiredness- We are not talking about the terrible 2’s here. Children who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea will often be cranky, have high levels or frustration, bouts of hyperactivity, a hard time paying attention as well as being irritable.
  • School problems- Children with sleep apnea are often labeled as “lazy” by the teachers.
  • Bed wetting- While bed wetting is common for children it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Frequent infections- Mainly ear and nose infections as well as chronic tonsil issues.

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea for children is often based on the underlying cause of the sleep apnea. Since enlarged tonsils are a number one cause of obstructive sleep apnea for children this is often treated by removing the tonsils. If surgery is not needed the children can be treated with the use of CPAP machines to help regulate and control nighttime breathing. If left untreated obstructive sleep apnea for children can lead to more serious medical problems in the future.

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