A Parent’s Guide to Sleep Apnea in Children

A Parent’s Guide to Sleep Apnea in Children

A Parent’s Guide to Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep apnea is commonly misunderstood as one of those diseases that only affect overweight adults. Contrary to that preconceived notion, sleep apnea can also affect children. In fact, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, an estimated 1% to 4% of children have sleep apnea between ages 2 to 8 years old.

How to Identify Sleep Apnea in Children?

Three months after bringing home their infant, Kevin and Amanda Cook noticed that their son Caden has episodes of breathing pauses during sleep. Amanda had watched her son go “just completely limp” and “unresponsive” and had to rouse him repeatedly to get him to breathe again. At 6 months, Caden was taken to the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California and got diagnosed with both obstructive and central sleep apnea. The former occurs when the airway is blocked during sleep, and the latter takes place when the brain fails to regulate the breathing muscles during sleep.

Sleep apnea is a widely misdiagnosed medical condition and it can also affect children. There are an estimated one to four percent of the children who have sleep apnea and they are in the age bracket of two to eight years old. There are multiple causes of sleep apnea but age and the weight are said to be the contributing factors seen in adults. Adenoids and enlarged tonsils is also seen as a common cause of sleep apnea in children. Few of the other less common factors which can contribute to sleep apnea in children are down syndrome, storage disease, hypothyroidism, the sickle cell disease, congenital syndrome which can lead to oral, facial as well as throat anomalies leading to disruption in the airways, neuromuscular diseases that leads to an abnormal muscle tone to the pharyngeal constrictors and cerebral palsy. If the sleep apnea is not treated on time, then it can lead to severe form of damage caused to the overall health of the child. Sleep as we all are aware is very much important mostly during the early stages of development since that is the time when the brain is also beginning to establish itself completely. In case of disturbed or interrupted sleep the brain tends to sustain injuries which often accumulates through the disruption of oxygen being delivered thereby causing the executive function wherein the brain tends to become impaired.

Hence it becomes very much important for the parents to observe their kids carefully for any kind of early symptoms of this medical condition. One of the classic symptoms is known to be snoring. Others can include chronic conditions of breathing from the mouth while sleeping, there would be a long pause while breathing in sleep, the individual feels restless leading to constant turning and tossing in the bed, bedwetting and also lead to night sweats. During the day time, the children may reflect behavioral issues, sleepiness in excess during daytime, having difficulty in concentration or speaking with a nasal voice. As soon as any of these symptoms start to appear, one should get diagnosed. A diagnostic tool known as polysomnogram can be used by the doctor for ruling out or diagnosis of sleep apnea. But the main challenge out here is to ensure that the child cooperates during this diagnosis technique.

Currently there are no universally accepted rules or guidelines for determining whether a child is suffering from sleep apnea or whether it is severe enough that it would need medical or surgical intervention. When it comes to the treatment then based on the symptoms the doctor can suggest the correct mode of treatment. In case if the cause is enlarged tonsils or adenoids then possibly there would need to be surgical removal but for those children who suffer from obesity, or certain complications of OSA would need to have an overnight breathing observation. Wherever surgery would not be recommended the doctor would ask to go in for positive airway pressure therapy. It is important that during childhood this medical condition is identified so that it does not lead to any issues while the child is growing.