Sleep Apnea In Children

Student sleeping in class

Although typically thought to be an adult disorder, sleep apnea in children is common enough to be a real problem.

Sleep apnea in children is more frequent than you might think, and in some ways, it carries more risk than the adult variety. Children can face everything from potential health issues to setbacks in their development, and because they don’t fit the typical image of a sleep apnea sufferer, they run the risk of misdiagnosis. The best way to avoid occurrences like this is to understand the causes and risks of sleep apnea in children. After all, it’s much easier to find the signs when you know what they are.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children

Children suffering from sleep apnea exhibit certain symptoms during the day and night. Stay on the lookout for these, and keep in mind that while they may be witnessed without necessarily coming from sleep apnea, noticing more than one in each category can be a warning sign.

Nighttime symptoms:

  • Loud, frequent snoring
  • Pauses in breathing, punctuated by snorts and gasps that may lead to disrupted sleep
  • Excessive sweating while asleep
  • General restlessness during sleep

Daytime signs:

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Headaches throughout the day, particularly in the early hours after getting out of bed
  • Easily becoming agitated, and general irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness so severe that dozing off occurs
  • Frequent breathing through the mouth
  • Difficulty with schoolwork and paying attention

If your child’s behavior changes without any obvious cause, there are many potential reasons for it. However, if you notice behavioral changes along with some of these symptoms, you should consider the possibility of childhood sleep apnea.

Potential Consequences of Childhood Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea in children can lead to a variety of issues, which can impact their lives in numerous ways. Kids struggling with this disorder may demonstrate symptoms similar to those of attention disorders, like having trouble concentrating and learning, as well as poor grades in school. In fact, an alarmingly large number of kids diagnosed with ADHD also show symptoms of sleep apnea. Poor sleep can have a tremendous impact on how we perform in our daily lives, and for children with developing minds it can be even more harmful.

Beyond struggles in school, children dealing with undiagnosed sleep apnea are at risk of developing health issues over time. High blood pressure and heart problems can result from untreated sleep apnea.

Solutions for Children with Sleep Apnea

The most effective way to identify sleep apnea in a child is a sleep study, which involves keeping track of various activities while they’re asleep. These can include breathing, heart rate, brain activity, blood oxygen levels and muscle movements. The child sleeps while connected to a machine that compiles the information, and afterward, the data is reviewed to determine whether sleep apnea is the issue.

The most common causes of sleep apnea in children include enlarged adenoids or tonsils, which are tissues located at the rear of the nasal cavity. If too large they can obstruct airways, meaning that most cases of childhood sleep apnea resolve after surgery is performed to remove them. For children with sleep apnea resulting from obesity, a weight-loss regimen and improved lifestyle can correct the issue in time.

However, there are cases where surgery or an improved diet and lifestyle won’t remedy the problem. If the adenoids and tonsils aren’t determined to be the cause of the sleep apnea, CPAP therapy might be recommended. A CPAP (or continuous positive airway pressure) machine uses a mask to keep airways open during sleep.

If a CPAP machine can help your child breathe better at night, don’t delay! Sleep apnea therapy can improve a child’s overall quality of life, while making sure they don’t suffer any setbacks due to lack of sleep.