Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

Just like adults, children can also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Learn all about this condition in this article.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

Last update: 21 April, 2021

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disorder. Therefore, it’s quite worrying when children suffer from it. In this article, you’ll discover how to detect this problem and different ways to treat it as soon as possible.

Although it may seem that obstructive sleep apnea isn’t a common disorder, according to the article Consequences of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, it’s a condition with a fairly high prevalence rate. In the case of children, up to 3% of them may suffer from it.

What’s Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

A young girl sleeping with her mouth open.
In sleep apnea, there’s a blockage of breathing during the night that interferes with nighttime sleep patterns.

This type of apnea that occurs while children sleep causes partial or complete blockage of the airways. This means that, while they’re sleeping, they stop breathing at some point. When this happens, the child often wakes up, thus disrupting their sleep and causing fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

There are several reasons why children may suffer from this breathing disorder and we’ll look at them below. However, it’s important that we pay close attention to this problem that occurs during sleep.

The Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

  • Adenotonsillar hypertrophy. In this case, the adenoid glands (tissues located in the upper part of the throat) are too large, reducing the space the air passes through.
  • Obesity. Excess fat can cause soft tissues to build up around the airways, causing a narrowing that results in apnea.
  • Neuromuscular diseases. These are often characterized by loss of muscle strength that can cause sleep apnea in children. They’re progressive.
  • Craniofacial disorders. These malformations can affect the airways, causing disturbances and a greater predisposition to suffering from sleep apnea.

Signs and Symptoms

Now that you know some of the reasons why children may suffer from sleep apnea, it’s important to detect the signs and symptoms of this disorder early on. To do this, you must let your child’s pediatrician know the following signs that you may overlook.

One of these signs may be snoring. However, children may also have night sweats for no apparent reason, sleepwalk, or have night terrors. These symptoms usually cause hyperactivity, headaches, and attention deficit throughout the day.

A young girl crying in her bed during the night.
In the face of this problem, the child may manifest chronic fatigue and other sleep problems such as sleepwalking or night terrors.

If your child tells you that they have woken up without breathing or are afraid to fall asleep for this reason, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms we’ve discussed.

Bringing it to the attention of the pediatrician will help to initiate treatment as soon as possible to avoid, as researchers from the Sleep Unit of the Hospital Clínico Universitario de Santiago point out, other complications such as the presence of cardiovascular diseases.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Depending on what’s causing the obstructive sleep apnea, the doctor will decide on the proper treatment. If obstructive sleep apnea is caused by obesity, for example, the child will be given a specific diet designed to help them lose weight. The doctor will consider other options if this doesn’t solve the problem or the child is unable to lose weight.

  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure machine). This is a device that prevents the collapse of the airways during the night. The child has to sleep with a mask that will be connected through a tube that exerts positive airway pressure.
  • Mouthguard. This is a device or oral appliance that maintains the throat open by moving the jaw forward. Plus, it also prevents snoring.
  • Surgery. This is for more severe cases (although it isn’t used as often). It may focus on the jaw, neck, or the removal of tissues in the case of adenoid glands.

All these options mitigate the symptomatology described above and prevent children’s sleep quality from being impaired because they stop breathing unconsciously during the night.

Remember that this disorder can lead to cardiovascular problems and even sudden death. Therefore, early appropriate treatment is essential to prevent complications.

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