Does My Child
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects between 1 and 5% of children, while up to 27% of children suffer from OSA’s primary symptom — habitual snoring. OSA is most likely to occur between the ages of 2 and 8. However, additional evidence shows that children with minor snoring suffer from many of the same complications as those with OSA.
Although OSA is often difficult to detect in children, and the symptoms may manifest differently than they would in an adult, we recommend understanding the symptoms and warning signs.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The signs of sleep apnea in children may look different from the adult symptoms. Because the effects are often more subtle, many patients need a more comprehensive diagnostic approach.
The symptoms of sleep apnea in children include:
- Snoring: Loud, habitual snoring is the clearest symptom, especially if you notice periodic choking. This blockage can result in gasping or snorting noises and may wake your child up from sleep.
- Slow growth: Losing sleep may impact a child’s production of growth hormones.
- Irritability: Sleep apnea can result in mood swings, drowsiness, and lack of focus.
- Bedwetting: A sleeping disorder can increase urine production while your child is sleeping.
How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Child
OSA can lead to serious health issues, including heart problems such as right-sided heart failure, as well as diabetes and problems with cognitive functions. There is also a strong correlation between sleep disorders and childhood obesity. Awareness and early detection have helped make these health problems less prevalent. Diagnosing your child as early as possible is important.
Sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed as something else, including ADHD. Because daytime symptoms — such as irritability and lack of focus — are similar, without a sleep study to confirm nighttime symptoms this can lead to misdiagnoses. Patients with sleep apnea who have been prescribed ADHD medication often find that they remain tired and continue to lack energy.
If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea, ask your doctor if she recommends conducting a sleep study with a specialist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a child grow out of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition, meaning it isn’t something that goes away on its own or can be outgrown. Anatomy tends to remain fixed after adolescence, so for children with narrow facial or jaw structures, sleep apnea can continue to affect them.
When you notice possible signs of sleep apnea in your child, it’s best to schedule an appointment with their pediatrician as soon as possible. Sleep apnea can lead to various complications that may make life difficult for a child, such as behavioral troubles or difficulty staying awake during the day.
Can sleep apnea affect a child’s development?
In some cases, sleep apnea may lead to developmental problems in children. They may have difficulties paying attention in class that may lead to learning problems and diminished academic performance.
Some children suffering from sleep apnea may also develop hyperactivity, which contributes to the misdiagnosis of sleep apnea as ADHD. This abnormally active state may lead to trouble staying still and being quiet, which can lead to social development issues.
What causes sleep apnea in children?
The root cause of sleep apnea can be difficult to pinpoint. Studies show that the most common reason sleep apnea develops in children is due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids (lymph nodes located in the throat).
Other possible causes may include:
- Narrow facial structure (seen in Down syndrome)
- Small jaw structure
- Cleft palate
- Low muscle tone (seen in neuromuscular diseases)
- High muscle tone (seen in cerebral palsy)
- Tumors in the airway (rare)
Can a child be at risk for sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea affects one in five children. While it isn’t as common in children as it is in adults, there’s still a small chance a child may develop sleep apnea between the ages of two and eight years old.
Factors such as weight and bone structure play major roles in causing the development of sleep apnea. However, studies show that children are at higher risk for developing OSA if they experience:
- Frequent upper airway infections
- Severe asthma
- Nasal allergies
- Stomach acid reflux
It’s best to monitor children if they experience any of these symptoms. If you notice signs of sleep apnea in your child, contact their pediatrician immediately to schedule a sleep test.
Treating Sleep Apnea in Children
The first step is to see a doctor. That doctor will recommend a number of tests. Ask your doctor about conducting a sleep test.
If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a number of treatments the doctor may recommend. Which treatment is ideal depends on the exact cause of OSA. If large tonsils are disrupting breathing, an ear, nose, and throat doctor may recommend removing the tonsils or the large adenoids. These minor surgeries are often very effective.
Your doctor may also recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. If the OSA is mild-to-moderate, your child may also be a candidate for a more comfortable customized oral sleep appliance.