Sleep Disordered Breathing in Children
Sleep apnea is a relatively common condition in children that interrupts normal breathing during sleep. It’s estimated that up to five percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, mainly those between ages two and six. The most prevalent type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the airway becomes partially blocked during sleep.
Untreated OSA can significantly impact a child’s sleep quality, daytime behavior, academic performance, and overall health. If you suspect your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, our Greensboro sleep dentist, Dr. Mark Katz, will make sure they get the correct diagnosis and the treatment they require.
Understanding Childhood Sleep Apnea
With OSA, there’s a blockage in the child’s airway that causes intermittent stoppages in breathing during sleep. This blockage reduces oxygen levels in the bloodstream and fragments the child’s sleep cycles, preventing them from reaching deeper stages of sleep.
As a result, children with OSA tend to be restless, groggy, and moody during the daytime. Unfortunately, childhood OSA is often initially misdiagnosed as ADHD or another behavioral disorder.
Symptoms of Childhood OSA
Children with OSA exhibit many of the same symptoms as adults. This includes restless sleep, stoppages of breathing during the night often followed by loud gasping sounds, loud snoring, moodiness, and daytime fatigue. Additional symptoms of childhood OSA include:
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Poor attention span
- Behavioral issues
- Poor academic performance
What Causes Childhood Sleep Apnea?
A major difference between pediatric and adult OSA is that childhood cases are often associated with developmental factors related to the size and structure of the mouth and airway. Dentists like Dr. Katz have expertise related to how skeletal development impacts airflow. They can often detect risk for OSA based on a child’s facial growth pattern and discuss these concerns with parents early on.
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also a frequent cause of increased airway obstruction and OSA in children. Obesity and weight gain can further narrow the airway. Neuromuscular disorders that weaken the muscles controlling the upper airway also increase a child’s risk of developing OSA.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Childhood Sleep Apnea
Early diagnosis of childhood OSA results in more effective treatment outcomes. Treating OSA promptly can prevent years of struggle in school and emotional distress for children. Diagnostic tests include:
- Physical exam of the mouth, nose, and throat
- Sleep study (polysomnography) to monitor brain activity and breathing during sleep
- Questionnaires to assess daytime sleepiness
- Imaging tests like X-rays or CT scans to visualize the airway
If enlarged tonsils and adenoids are contributing to OSA, surgical removal is often recommended. Because children are still developing, Dr. Katz may also be able to treat misalignments using oral appliances to guide jaw growth in a way that opens the airway. Weight loss is recommended for overweight children to decrease obstruction. Other OSA treatments include CPAP, supplemental oxygen, or medications.
Complications of Untreated OSA
Leaving childhood OSA untreated can lead to several complications down the road, including:
- Growth problems and failure to thrive can develop as constant sleep disruptions prevent adequate rest and hormone release needed for growth.
- High blood pressure may occur as oxygen deprivation and interrupted sleep cycles strain the cardiovascular system.
- Lasting cognitive and behavioral issues like problems with focus, memory, learning, and ADHD-like symptoms often arise.
- Poor academic performance frequently results from cognitive and behavioral deficits.
- Elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke later in life due to the cardiovascular stress of untreated OSA.
Childhood OSA Prevention
Parents can take several preventative measures to help avoid OSA developing in their children:
- Promoting healthy weight and activity habits early on, since obesity increases OSA risk.
- Reducing exposure to secondhand smoke can promote airway inflammation and breathing issues during sleep.
- Properly managing any allergies, asthma, sinus problems, or other respiratory conditions through medication and trigger avoidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a child die from sleep apnea?
Can my child be at risk from sleep apnea?
- Severe asthma
- Nasal allergies
- Stomach acid reflux
- Frequent upper airway infections
If you notice these signs of sleep apnea symptoms in your child, contact their pediatrician immediately to schedule a sleep test.
Can children outgrow sleep apnea?
How can treating sleep apnea benefit my child?
- Receiving quality sleep
- Easing headaches and fatigue
- Reaching ideal height and weight
- Combating childhood obesity
Protect Your Child’s Quality Sleep
At our Greensboro office, Dr. Katz is qualified to help your child get a reliable diagnosis and effective treatment. We provide care to prevent sleep apnea from affecting your child’s development or undermining their potential. Call our Greensboro office at (336) 364-8988 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation today.