Sleep apnea isn't something that only affects adults. According to American Family Physician, one to ten percent of children are at risk for sleep apnea caused by Obstructed Sleep Apnea (OSA). That's not a large percentage, but it's enough to cause concern for the parents of the three to twelve percent of kids that snore, which shows a possible sign of sleep apnea.
It's important to understand what sleep apnea is, how to detect it, and the risks it poses to children that are diagnosed. If your child snores, talk to their doctor about sleep apnea. You could save their lives.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Many of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are the same for children as they are for adults. It's unlikely you'll catch your child in the act of stopped breathing, but there are some other signs that will let you know they may need to be checked out for OSA.
Sleep apnea interrupts sleep. Sometimes when it causes you to stop breathing momentarily it wakes you up. This interrupted sleep causes drowsiness during the day.
Snoring is a sign and a symptom, of course. Your child might also breath heavy when they are sleeping.
If your child has their own room you might not even notice some of these signs and symptoms. There are some that you should notice though. If they start having difficulty getting up each morning, start having behavioral issues that weren't there before that might seem to stem from grogginess and grumpiness, or if they start performing poorly in school it could be because of the interruptions to their sleep from OSA.
Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children
Contrary to popular belief, obesity is not the only cause of sleep apnea. It is one of them though.
During sleep, the muscles of the body relax. This is something that happens to everyone. Throat muscles relax as well. In OSA cases these throat muscles relax more than they are supposed to. When they relax it obstructs the airway and it makes it difficult to breathe. Sometimes it even causes the person to stop breathing for short moments at a time.
There is an increased risk of obstruction for people that have other health issues. One of them is obesity, but it isn't the only one. Enlarged or swollen tonsils can sometimes obstruct the airway. In this case, a tonsillectomy would help get rid of the sleep apnea.
Surgery isn't always an option. But since tonsillitis is one of the most common causes of OSA in children, this is definitely an option to look into.
Risks of Sleep Apnea in Children
The risks for sleep apnea can often be found in both the symptoms and the causes. Being overweight or obese can cause problems, as can a history of other members of your family being diagnosed with OSA. Even if your child is in a healthy weight range, if they have a larger neck it can increase their risk. So can large tongues that might block the airway during sleep.
There are some medical conditions that increase a child's risk of OSA. Children born with facial abnormalities, like a cleft pallet, are at an increased risk. So are children with cerebral palsy and down syndrome.
What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Sleep Apnea
If your child has any of the signs or symptoms of sleep apnea, consider talking to their doctor about it. They may determine that you have nothing to worry about or they might schedule some testing to find out if your child is at risk.
If your child's doctor suspects they might have sleep apnea they will schedule them for a sleep study. Their decision will be based a lot on what you tell them about your child's symptoms like if they aren't sleeping properly, are snoring a lot, or have other risk factors.
During the sleep study, the doctor will test a lot of things. It's a painless test, so nothing you or your child should be worried about. It can be performed at a specialized place for sleep studies or at a hospital.
The test consists of having sensors taped to your child's body that will monitor their blood oxygen level, heart rate, and brain waves. The doctor will also watch them in order to see what types of sleep positions they rest in, movements their body makes as they sleep, if they snore, and to watch their eye movements.
If your child is diagnosed with OSA your doctor will talk you through the best steps to help your child sleep soundly. This could include surgery or a CPAP device.