Children and Sleep Apnea

Children and Sleep Apnea

Even though it can be more difficult to diagnose, small children can also suffer from sleep apnea, just like adults. But, how to determine whether or not your child experiences obstructive sleep apnea episodes – when breathing becomes partially or completely blocked while asleep? Just read on and find out everything you should know about the causes, symptoms, testing, and treatment options of pediatric sleep apnea.

Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes

Typically, all of the muscles in the body relax during sleep, including the muscles in the throat that are in charge of keeping the airway open. In pediatric sleep apnea, these muscles can sometimes over-relax and block the airway which results in obstructed breathing.

However, there are also some other possible causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children including the following:

  • Family medical history
  • Obesity
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Medical conditions like cerebral palsy

Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms

To determine if your child suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, you should be looking for certain symptoms both when your child is awake and sleeping.

But, in fact, the most noticeable and easy to recognize symptoms manifest during sleep. Here’s a brief list of the most common sleep apnea symptoms when asleep:

  • Snoring
  • Snorting
  • Coughing
  • Choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Breathing pauses
  • Restless sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting

On the other hand, the following is a list of sleep apnea symptoms during waking hours:

  • Constantly feeling exhausted
  • Learning issues
  • Poor cognitive skills
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavioral issues
  • Easily distracted
  • Lack of interest in activities

How to Diagnose Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

As you can conclude from the above-listed numerous symptoms and causes, pediatric obstructive sleep apnea needs further testing in order to be diagnosed correctly in a child. The most common tests include:

  • Polysomnogram – This is actually an overnight study that requires body sensors that record breathing, brain waves, heart rate, muscle activities, oxygen levels, and snoring.
  • Pulse Oximetry –By recording oxygen saturation levels in the body, pulse-oximetry can accurately diagnose sleep apnea in combination with the polysomnogram study.
  • Electrocardiogram – This test uses a device to measures electrical heart impulses so that it proves the existence of any underlying heart issue causing sleep apnea.

How to Treat Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Once your child finishes testing and is diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor should provide recommendations for further treatment based on the results. Some of the most common obstructive sleep apnea treatments include:

  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is the number one treatment for this sleep condition. It is a machine that blows air through a tube into a mouth or nose mask. By doing this, it creates pressure in the throat and prevents it from blocking the airway.
  • Tonsil or adenoid removal is obviously the treatment your child should undergo in case enlarged tonsils or adenoids are the causes of sleep apnea. But first, you should visit an otolaryngologist, i.e. an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
  • Medication is the last of the most common sleep apnea treatments, but it may be suitable for treating only mild sleep apnea. Common medications are topical nasal steroids like Rhinocort and Flonase, or Singulair if symptoms are caused by allergies.

So, if you suspect your child is having obstructive sleep apnea, make sure you take notes of the symptoms you notice and visit a specialist as soon as possible.