Updated at: 11-03-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted while they sleep. In children, these pauses in breathing can impact sleep quality and lead to daytime drowsiness and behavioral problems.

Obstructive and central sleep apnea are the two main kinds of sleep apnea (CSA). People with OSA have difficulty breathing because their airways are narrowed or clogged. CSA is characterized by a lack of effort to inhale, which results in a brief pause in breathing. OSA is far more common in children than CSA, as it is in adults.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects 1 to 5 percent of youngsters, according to research. Obstructive sleep apnea in children is more widespread than previously thought, according to research.

A pediatrician can assist you to establish the appropriate timing for an evaluation of a child’s sleep apnea symptoms. Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea is possible with the use of diagnostic tests and treatment options.

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What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children?

Obstructive sleep apnea in children can be caused by a variety of factors.

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids: Tonsil and adenoid hypertrophy is a well-established risk factor for juvenile obstructive pulmonary disease (OSA). As part of a person’s immune system, their tonsils and adenoids reside in the back of their throats. Genetics, recurrent infections, or inflammation can all contribute to enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Having swollen these glands makes it more difficult to breathe while you sleep since they narrow the airway.
  • Childhood obesity: An further common cause of OSA in children is obesity, which likewise narrows the airways. Obese children are 60 percent more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Other risk factors: It is also possible to have an overbite (a small jaw) or a small jaw (overbite) if you have a condition such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, which weakens the muscles of the tongue and throat. Children with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to suffer from nasal allergies, be exposed to adults who smoke, and have a history of the disorder in their families.

What Causes Central Sleep Apnea in Children?

Children with central sleep apnea can develop it for a number of different causes. A few apneic episodes during the night are regarded as usual, and should not be considered abnormal. Children’s congenital central hypoventilation syndrome has been linked to central sleep apnea. In other cases, it might be caused by health issues that affect the central nervous system, which regulates breathing in youngsters.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is frequently accompanied by snoring. However, not all children who snore have sleep apnea, and not all children who have sleep apnea snore. Sleep apnea may only be diagnosed by a medical professional if the symptoms a child is experiencing are attributable to it.

When children are suffering from sleep apnea, they may also experience snoring.

  • a habit of sleeping with one’s lips open
  • Coughing and choking.
  • Sweating during the night.
  • Sleepwalking.
  • Talking to yourself while you’re asleep.
  • The occurrence of nightmares while sleeping.
  • Bedwetting.

Sleep apnea can also have negative effects on the body during the day. These include, but are not limited to:

  • A feeling of drowsiness during the day.
  • Difficulty staying focused.
  • Hyperactivity, rebelliousness, and impulsiveness are all symptoms that might be mistaken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Headaches in the morning.
  • Anxious state of mind.
  • Controlling one’s feelings is a challenge.

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed in Children?

To begin, a doctor will interview the child and the child’s parent or guardian to learn about the child’s sleep habits and any symptoms that occur during the day and night. Additionally, a physical examination of the child’s mouth, neck, and throat may be performed by the doctor to look for physical traits that raise the risk of sleep apnea (such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids).

This initial evaluation may lead the doctor to recommend polysomnography, which is an overnight sleep study at a sleep center. Measurement of a person’s bodily functions, while they are asleep, is called polysomnography. It is completely non-invasive and painless. When diagnosing sleep apnea, polysomnography is the gold standard approach, as it delivers the most conclusive data.

Based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, home sleep studies are typically not advised for children.

What Is the Treatment for Sleep Apnea in Children?

It’s important to review all of your options with your doctor or pediatrician before beginning any treatment for sleep apnea in children.

  • Adenotonsillectomy: Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids can treat sleep apnea in children caused by swollen tonsils and adenoids.
  • Myofunctional therapy: Myofunctional therapy, or “oropharyngeal exercises,” have been demonstrated to reduce snoring in children with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Orthodontics:Maxillary expansion and mandibular advancement devices use dental hardware to widen the mouth and enhance airflow, resulting in better dental health.
  • CPAP: This equipment, often known as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), works by continually pumping air into the user’s airway as they sleep. They wear masks attached to pumps as they slumber to help them breathe. Children may need behavioral counseling to acclimate to wearing a CPAP mask while they sleep.
  • Treatment of allergies and sinus inflammation: Children with minor signs of sleep apnea may benefit from drugs such as steroid nasal sprays, saline nasal rinses, and/or other allergy medications. As a result of repeatedly inhaling through the mouth, the airways and tongue get constricted, resulting in a bad posture. Treatment for allergies is frequently used in conjunction with other therapies.

In addition, children with moderate or no symptoms may be observed over time without medication. During the period of “watchful waiting,” a patient may receive assistance in the form of sleep hygiene instruction, symptom monitoring, and regular checkups with their doctor.

What Natural Treatments Are Available For Sleep Apnea in Children?

The following home remedies for children’s obstructive sleep apnea may be of use. It is advisable to examine the dangers and advantages of the following natural treatments with your child’s doctor.

  • Weight loss: Weight loss can help children with obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. A doctor can offer advice on how to maintain a healthy weight and get enough exercise. Dieticians and nutritionists can also assist in developing a weight loss plan. Treatments that alleviate symptoms faster may be more appropriate for children with severe symptoms whose loss of weight can take a long time to occur.
  • Avoiding allergens: Pollen and mold, two common triggers of allergic rhinitis, should be avoided if possible (an allergic reaction of the nasal passages). People with sleep apnea often have congestion in their noses and airways due to allergies.
  • Nasal breathing retraining: When a child has difficulty breathing at night, they may need to undergo nasal breathing retraining (also known as myofunctional therapy), which is a form of physical therapy. It may help alleviate symptoms, but there isn’t enough evidence to back that up.
  • Positional therapy: For those who have difficulty sleeping in the same position, positioning therapy might be used. Children who have sleep apnea that is only present while they sleep on their backs may benefit from this treatment. Sleep apnea sufferers may benefit by elevating the head of their beds. Limited data are known on the efficacy of positional therapy for children. Nonetheless,

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How Is Sleep Apnea Different Between Adults and Children?

A person’s quality of sleep will be compromised by sleep apnea regardless of age, however the symptoms can differ between adults and children. When it comes to daytime sleepiness and exhaustion, adults are more prone to experience it than youngsters, who are more likely to struggle with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity as symptoms.

In addition, the treatment of sleep apnea in children is different from that in adults.. CPAP is the most commonly used treatment for adults, while surgery is the most commonly used treatment for children. Adults with sleep apnea are not a good candidate for several orthodontic treatments since they are still growing.

When Should We See a Doctor?

Any time you experience unusual sleep issues, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. In addition, youngsters who aren’t getting enough sleep may have difficulty concentrating, be irritable, or exhibit poor self-control. You may want to question your child’s doctor if a sleep ailment such as sleep apnea could be to blame for their behavioral issues.

Symptoms of sleep apnea in children

Aside from the differences in snoring, the symptoms of obstructive and central apnea may be similar.

Sleep apnea symptoms in children include:

  • a lot of snoring, especially at night.
  • When you’re sleeping, you can start coughing or choke.
  • breathes in and out slowly.
  • Taking a breath with your mouth open.
  • recurring nightmares that keep you awake at night.
  • bedwetting.
  • unusual sleeping positions.

Sleep apnea symptoms might show up at any time of day or night. Daytime symptoms can include exhaustion, difficulty going asleep, and difficulties waking up in the morning if your child suffers from this illness.

Sleep apnea, particularly central apnea, may not cause snoring in young children and infants. Sleep apnea may be the lone symptom in this age range that isn’t accompanied by any other symptoms.

Outlook for children with sleep apnea

Many youngsters benefit from therapy for sleep apnea.

In children with obstructive sleep apnea, surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids has been shown to decrease symptoms in as many as 79% of trials reviewed in 2018. More severe apnea previous to surgery, age, and obesity were all risk factors for post-surgical symptoms in children.

Following surgery, Black children were more likely than other kids to develop side effects, according to a random experiment conducted in 2013. They did, however, have more severe apnea.

With weight loss, CPAP machines, or an oral appliance, symptoms can be alleviated.

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You and your child’s quality of life may suffer if sleep apnea is not treated. In school, it may be difficult for them to maintain their concentration. If the problem persists into adulthood, it may increase the risk of stroke or heart disease.

Consult your child’s physician if you notice any of the following symptoms in your child:

  • a lot of snoring, especially at night.
  • breathing pauses while they are sleeping.
  • severe exhaustion during the day
  • hyperactivity.
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