Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by breathing difficulties while asleep. It is a condition in which there is blockage or narrowing of the upper airway, which often results in loud snoring, choking, mouth-breathing, and general difficulty in breathing while sleeping. It is estimated that 1 to 10 percent of children may have some form of sleep apnea.

Pediatric Sleep Apnea: 5 Things You Need to Know

Children and adults can both experience sleep apnea, but the consequences for children are greater. When the condition is left untreated, it can develop into complications that affect crucial development, growth, and behavior.

Signs and Symptoms

Pediatric sleep apnea can be hard to catch and observe as parents don’t usually stay long in the same room as their sleeping children do. However, there are notable signs and symptoms that parents should know. Children with sleep apnea will often exhibit the following:

  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble concentrating at school
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavioral issues
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Mouth-breathing during sleep
  • Choking, snorting, gasping during sleep
  • Loud snoring

The list above is only intended to be a guide, and you should take your child to the doctor to be properly examined, especially if they snore at night or have breathing difficulties.

How Is Pediatric Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

A sleep study, or polysomnography, is usually recommended by doctors. It is a test conducted in freestanding facilities, sleep clinics, or hospitals, and the patient and the guardian or parent are required to stay overnight. Sleep technologies hook up equipment that records the brain waves, heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level, and eye and leg movements in the whole duration of the sleep. This recommendation is not for all, so you need to talk to your child’s doctor for advice.

What Are the Causes?

Children who have enlarged tonsils or larger-than-normal tonsils are prone to sleep apnea. Large adenoids may likely cause it, tissues that are high up the throat and that sit in the back of the nasal cavity. Obesity may also be a risk factor for children. Sleep apnea may also be a result of underlying health and physical complications such as neuromuscular defects and craniofacial anomalies. Some of these disorders may include sickle cell disease, cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Not all pediatric sleep apnea cases are the same, so the doctor will work closely with you to find the best necessary treatment for your child. Here are examples of treatment options:

Positive airway pressure therapy. Machines that use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) will help provide gentle circulation through a tube and mask for your child’s nose and mouth. These pieces of equipment aid in keeping the airway open. Children are always growing, so they may need to refit their masks and tubes over the years for maximum comfort.

Medication. Kids with mild sleep apnea may benefit from topical nasal steroids to ease sleep apnea symptoms. Some children may require using a combination of medicines.

Oral mouthpieces. Doctors may recommend fitting your child with dental devices and oral appliances to help position the jaw and tongue forward while sleeping. Proper oral posture keeps the upper airway open.

Removal surgery. When the tonsils and adenoids are abnormally large, some doctors may refer the patients to a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist for surgery. Removing the tonsils and adenoids may help improve the patient’s nighttime and sleep conditions.

Complications If Left Untreated

Untreated pediatric sleep apnea can hamper a child’s development in every way. Poor sleep can lead to problematic behaviors and weak performance in activities involving academics and even play. Pediatric sleep apnea, when left untreated, can lead to a host of health problems such as the following:

Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Children with sleep apnea need to be seen by a doctor right away. Contact your pediatrician as soon as you can. Do you have any advice or tips for parents of children with sleep apnea? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

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