It is during a child’s earliest years where much of their development takes place. During this time, they learn through their own observations, develop their social and mental skills, and figure out their own independence. However, some children do not have it so easy, especially for Mia Amdur, who has been diagnosed with childhood obstructive sleep apnea.
Being Diagnosed with Sleep Apnea
As early as two years old, Mia was already diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. The early diagnosis stemmed from her father, Adam, who also suffered from the sleep disorder and knew the symptoms sleep. He suspected that it was also passed on to his daughter when he observed that Mia’s nighttime breathing patterns were irregular as Mia would stop breathing for a while and then sigh. Although the sigh was different from the usual gasping sound observed in adults, Adam didn't think twice about seeking professional help.
He and his wife, Justine, brought Mia to the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center in Redwood City, CA for testing. The doctors monitored Mia during her sleep using electrodes connected to her body and the results from the test showed that Mia had stopped breathing 27 times per hour. She was then diagnosed to have moderate sleep apnea.
It is possible for obstructive sleep apnea to run in the family if they have adenoid face syndrome or ‘long face syndrome’. The condition is also described as having a skeletal open bite. As a result, those with the said condition develop a vertical face or a long face. Due to their unique skeletal and muscular structure, those with long face syndrome have their mouths open most of the time. This is because their upper airways have been congested; thus, they are obligated to be mouth breathers instead. A result of this condition is enlarged adenoids, which can be identified by either a lateral radiograph or endoscopy.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea in children may be difficult because certain symptoms such as inattentiveness and hyperactivity may simply be diagnosed as an attention deficit disorder (ADD). However, the observed hyperactivity is mainly caused by the fragmented sleep pattern of the child. Also, the age in which sleep apnea and ADD are usually diagnosed fall in the same range between ages 3 and 6. Studies have also shown that about 25 percent of children with ADD also have sleep apnea.
How Sleep Apnea Affects Children
Pediatric Sleep Apnea or Children’s Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder observed in children usually between two to eight years old. About one to four percent of children have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. If left untreated, it can result in detrimental effects on their development – both physically and mentally. Some of the problems related to sleep apnea are sleepwalking, bedwetting, and a slow growth rate among others. Other studies have also pointed at sleep apnea as a disruption of some of the brain’s executive functions. These include self-monitoring, self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, planning, and organization. It has also been linked to causing future cardiac and blood pressure issues.
Moreover, recent studies also suggest that sleep disorders in children are closely related to childhood obesity. This is due in part of the importance of healthy sleep when maintaining a healthy body together with proper diet and exercise.
After Mia was diagnosed with sleep apnea, her parents started to entertain the possibility that her psoriasis and sporadic temper tantrums were brought about by sleep apnea as well. As sleep apnea also lowers the immune system, Mia also experienced frequent ear and sinus infections.
How Mia Copes with Severe Sleep Apnea
Due to the early diagnosis and treatment of Mia’s sleep apnea, her chances of obtaining fatal conditions resulting from untreated sleep apnea has been greatly reduced. Since the diagnosis, Mia had two orthodontic procedures done in order to aid her breathing. As a result, it helped expand her pallet and airway. She also had her tonsils removed. For children, one of the main causes of sleep apnea could be due to relatively large tonsils as this could also aid in blocking the airway.
A continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) machine also assists Mia’s breathing, and it requires her to wear a mask attached to the machine whenever she sleeps. One instance, when she went away for summer camp, she even brought the CPAP machine with her.
A continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) machine is usually used as a treatment method for patients suffering from sleep apnea or other similar breathing problems. It basically works to prevent the user’s airway from collapsing as he/she breathes while sleeping. It consists of three basic parts: (1) mask, (2) tube, and (3) motor.
The CPAP machine works by providing mild air pressure onto the user’s airway in order to keep it open. Some of its other benefits include minimized snoring, improved sleep quality, reduced daytime sleepiness, and even reduce high blood pressure. Its effects can be observed as soon as it is used while its optimum therapeutic effects are typically achieved within two weeks. It is recommended to seek professional help during the initial setting of the machine. Also, the machine should be used regularly every night and even during nap times.
Early diagnosis of sleep apnea was crucial for Mia. Late detection of the disorder would otherwise have resulted in serious behavioral and learning problems. It may also have put her at risk for heart problems.
After undergoing several operations together with the help of the CPAP machine, Mia no longer suffers from immune problems. Her psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease, also disappeared. She had the skin condition since birth and although she had several treatments before, it did not go away until she was treated for sleep apnea.
Although those diagnosed with sleep apnea may suffer lifelong issues with their health and behavior, the condition remains to be treatable. This is especially true for children. Children who are diagnosed with sleep apnea and who had the necessary procedures and treatment may not have it when they grow older. Mia, although still battling the condition every day, continues to live just like any other child – riding horses, playing sports, and even going to summer camps.