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Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep apnea can affect children as well as adults. In addition to dangerous breathing pauses while sleeping and other serious health risks associated with sleep apnea, the condition can also lead to exhaustion, behavioral problems, headaches, and other symptoms during the child’s waking hours.

Dr. Edward Shukovsky has extensive training and experience in the treatment of sleep apnea and can meet with you and your child to discuss potential treatment options. There have been many advances in the field of sleep apnea treatment over the years that have produced new options designed to effectively help children achieve a healthier, more refreshing night’s sleep.

What Is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric sleep apnea is often the result of a child’s tonsils and adenoids blocking their airway as they sleep. Children with sleep apnea typically snore habitually and experience pauses between breaths. After a pause in breathing, these children will likely gasp or snort as they regain their breath. This is often accompanied by a jerking motion that can disrupt sleep. The poor sleep quality and reduced oxygen intake caused by pediatric sleep apnea can ultimately result in problems such as difficulty staying focused in school, behavioral issues, and other health concerns. In fact, sleep apnea can even increase the risk of high blood pressure and sudden cardiac death. 

Cases of sleep apnea can often go undiagnosed, or they may even be misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or another condition. This is why it is very important to be aware of some of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, and to have your child examined to determine whether sleep apnea may be present.

What Causes Sleep Apnea in Children?

Just like the condition as experienced by adults, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when tissues or muscles in breathing passages become too relaxed during sleep. This can narrow or even completely close the airway. Since it happens while the child is sleeping, they are unlikely to be aware of the problem. The risk of developing sleep apnea can be particularly high in children who have underdeveloped jaws since problems in these structures caused by inadequate development can result in the upper and/or lower jaws pushing back into the oral cavity. If this occurs, the airway could be significantly narrowed or completely obstructed. As noted in the section above, sleep apnea can also be caused by enlarged adenoids and tonsils, which can obstruct the child’s airway during sleep. Other possible risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include obesity, genetics, a small jaw, an enlarged tongue, and being around tobacco smoke. 

What Are Some of the Signs of Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Some of the signs that a child may potentially have sleep apnea include: 

  • Sleeping with their head in an abnormal position 
  • A choking or gasping event while sleeping 
  • Breathing pauses during sleep that can last several seconds 
  • Sleepwalking 
  • Falling asleep or daydreaming throughout the day
  • Habitual, loud snoring
  • Heavy sweating while sleeping 
  • Bedwetting
  • Tossing and turning at night
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Speaking with a nasal voice
  • Breathing through the mouth during the day 
  • Trouble focusing 
  • Behavioral issues 
  • Depression 

Snoring, Snorting, and Mouth Breathing

Most children snore on occasion, and approximately ten percent of children snore regularly. Some common reasons for snoring include allergies, a stuffy nose, or a respiratory infection. It is fairly common for children ages three and up to snore during deeper stages of sleep, as well. However, if you notice your child snores loudly and very frequently, she or he may have sleep apnea. Sudden snorts or gasps while sleeping and/or regular breathing through the mouth during the day can also be signs of pediatric sleep apnea. 

Pediatric sleep apnea can strike at virtually any age during a child’s development, and it is important to know how you can recognize what may be signs of sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. We will be happy to talk more with you if you believe your child may be suffering from sleep apnea. 

Sleep Loss in Children 

Depending on their age, children need different amounts of sleep. Without the proper amount of sleep, children can develop issues such as: 

  • Difficulty with memory and attention, leading to poor school performance
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Behavioral issues or hyperactivity
  • Delayed reaction times
  • Weight gain 

To help your child stay healthy and have strong development as they grow up, encourage regular bedtime routines and good sleep habits

What Are the Treatment Options for Children with Sleep Apnea?

If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are several treatment options that can be explored. The most ideal treatment will depend on your child’s unique needs. All of our sleep apnea treatments are customized based on factors that are specific to each patient. 

Oral appliance therapy is a popular treatment that can be very effective for pediatric sleep apnea. A custom-designed, removable oral appliance can be placed in the child’s mouth when they are ready for bed. While sleeping, the device is capable of slightly moving the jaw forward in order to maintain an open airway. These appliances resemble mouthguards or orthodontic retainers. They are designed to comfortably fit over the teeth and prevent oral tissues from creating a major obstruction in breathing passages. 

Another sleep apnea treatment option is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, machine. This is a device that utilizes a system of tubes with an oral or nasal attachment to provide a continuous supply of air through breathing passages during sleep. It is ultimately designed to keep the airways open and functional in a normal capacity throughout the night. While CPAP therapy is a viable option for many adult patients, it is often not the most ideal treatment for children and is therefore typically used only in rare cases. 

For children who have enlarged tonsils and adenoids, a surgical procedure to remove them may be recommended if they are determined to be a potential airway obstruction, and therefore a factor in the child’s sleep apnea. With this in mind, surgery is usually a last resort depending on the diagnosis, or in the event that non-invasive therapies are not ideal options. 

Dr. Shukovsky can meet with you and your child to discuss the treatment options that may offer the best chance of successfully addressing sleep apnea and reducing symptoms and risks associated with the condition. 

If you suspect your child might have sleep apnea, please contact us to learn more or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Shukovsky. We will be happy to answer your questions and provide you with additional information. 

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