It is surprisingly not uncommon for children to show mild forms of sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and some of them can usually grow out of it as their body develops and the airway expands to accommodate their growth. Regardless, the severe versions of obstructive sleep-disordered breathing, as it is normally called, must be addressed as soon as possible. Failure to do so can usually lead to developmental issues.
Despite being a fairly common condition in both children and adults, reports suggest that sleep apnea’s incidence in the former group is on the rise, which may be partly related to the increasing obesity rates in developed countries. The easy access to highly-processed foods and empty meals, coupled with the proliferation of passive entertainment and sedentary hobbies have had a direct impact on obesity rates, also indirectly increasing the incidence of sleep-disordered breathing in children, which are the main groups of individuals that usually partake of said lifestyles.
Unfortunately, one of the most effective and direct ways to treat this condition in children is through the surgical removal of the child’s tonsils and adenoids, removing the problem entirely and granting the child the capacity to breathe freely at night.
Fortunately for those who dislike such an intrusive approach to sleep apnea, researchers have also concluded that, instead of directly resorting to surgery to address sleep apnea in children, a study of the patient’s medical history will also provide valuable insight on the measures that could be taken as an alternative, such as lifestyle and dietary changes. Children playing sports may also help prevent it from developing
However, before any such changes are undertaken, it is imperative to identify the severity of the patient’s sleep apnea. This is where it can become complicated
For starters, there are only a handful of methods that can be used to study the extent of the child’s sleep apnea, with a sleep study remaining the best possible choice for this purpose. However, sleep studies are expensive, and the facilities that offer them are sparse. Furthermore, there is controversy among clinicians on how to interpret the results of the studies. Specifically, the evidence which suggests that a child requires surgery, versus the alternative of only undergoing a lifestyle change is highly subjective and usually reserved to the physician’s criteria.
As a result, specialists have concluded that a multidisciplinary approach is the most effective method for treating sleep apnea in children. Multiple health professionals are required to examine the child simultaneously, and their input is paramount to treat their condition. In the same way, their parents also have a vital role to play, as they are responsible for providing information to the specialists, as well as for ensuring that the treatment is followed at all times.
On the positive side, we now know more than ever about sleep apnea; it’s causes, diagnosis, and treatment are now more clear than they have ever been before. Nevertheless, there is still much room for improvement, especially in health services, health economics, and research outcomes, as the deficiencies in this area still negatively impact the applicability of test results, as well as the benefits they can provide to the patient.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which the affected person may struggle to breathe at night during his or her sleep. Throughout the episodes where the symptoms flare up, the subject’s respiration becomes very shallow or completely interrupted for extended periods of time. Each episode can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes at times, and a person may experience upwards of 30 episodes every night. As a result, the person may briefly wake up to catch his breath and quickly fall back asleep, not registering the episode in memory. Consequently, the afflicted seldom remember suffering the episodes at night, though they can usually feel their consequences in the morning in the form of fatigue, headaches, irritability, and a wide variety of additional symptoms.
The most common type of apnea is the obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In the symptomatic episodes of this disease, the patient’s airway collapses entirely, completely impeding respiration, and depriving him or her of oxygen. As a result, the patient will usually snore excessively in an attempt to draw more air into his or her lungs, an act which regularly ends with them waking up with a very loud snore. It is important to note that while most people that suffer from sleep apnea snores, not everyone who snores suffers from the disease. So, this one sign is not necessarily conclusive evidence to establish an accurate sleep apnea diagnosis by itself.
The problem with diagnosing sleep apnea is that its symptoms during the person’s sleep, and subsequent consequences in the morning, can be easily confused with a bad night of sleep. Usually the person will seldom remember their symptoms by the end of the day, leaving them to suffer them again the following night.
This problem is further complicated in people who live by themselves, as they would be no one to witness their symptoms. Sleep apnea is a disease which relies heavily on outside assistance in order to pinpoint its existence, as the patient will very visibly struggle to breathe, and their snoring is usually loud enough to be heard several rooms away. Those who have no one to listen to them will likely disregard the symptoms in the morning, and his or her quality of life will decrease because of it.
While it is common in adults, children have also been reported to suffer from it. Sleep apnea is usually caused by a group of factors such as obesity, genetics, and lifestyle choices in adults. Children, on the other hand, will also have their tonsils and adenoids as very likely causes of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea in obese adults is regularly caused by excess fat in the neck, which can exert additional pressure on the airway as they sleep, blocking the airway. Other adults are genetically predisposed to have small airways, which are prone to get blocked despite being of healthy weight and lifestyle.