Sleep apnea can affect anyone, including our little ones. Here’s what to look for and how to get help.
Can you hear your child snore from their bedroom even if they don’t have a cold? Does your child wake up with a headache? Are they more tired at the end of the day than other kids their age? Your child may have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can affect every age, gender, and race. Studies suggest that as many as 4% of American children have sleep apnea, most are between the ages of two and eight years old.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing in your sleep. Episodes can last from just a few seconds to a few minutes. A patient with sleep apnea can have as many as 30 episodes per hour.
Episodes of sleep apnea prevent you from reaching the deep, also known as restorative REM sleep. This is the sleep stage where the body fully relaxes and allows itself to heal, which is why your child may seem abnormally tired compared to their peers.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when tissues of the soft palate and throat relax, which blocks the airway.
Other types include central sleep apnea, a neurological disorder in which the brain “forgets” to tell the lungs to breathe. There is also complex, or mixed, sleep apnea which is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.Case studies of sleep apnea in children have shown that untreated sleep apnea leads to increased learning delays, behavior issues, physical delays, and potential heart problems. However, sleep apnea is very treatable in children.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children Include:
- Repeated waking during the night
- Changing sleep positions multiple times
- Recurrence of bedwetting in children who used to stay dry
- Sleepiness during the day or falling asleep in school
- Bad dreams, night terrors, or sleepwalking
- Hyperactivity or behavioral issues (not sitting still in class or following directions)
- Snoring, snorting, and gasping for air during sleep, especially when your child isn’t sick
- Headaches or a dry or sore mouth when your child wakes up
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Pre-existing conditions like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, or diabetes
- Being overweight
- Enlarged tonsils or a naturally small airway
How Is Sleep Apnea in Children Treated?
To diagnose sleep apnea, your child will take part in a sleep study led by a medical team in either your home or a hospital. Your child’s medical team will then determine the best treatment for your child. Sleep apnea varies greatly and some cases are more severe than others. There are multiple treatment options in order to cater to your childâ€™s specific needs.
If your child’s sleep apnea is mild, your child’s care team might opt to watch the situation to see if they outgrow it. Mild to moderate sleep apnea may also be treated using inhaled steroids to open the airway. Other suggestions may include removing your child’s tonsils, orthodontic treatment or orthodontic surgery.
There are also special machines and appliances that can help treat sleep apnea in more significant cases. A CPAP machine is worn at night and has a mask that fits over the nose and mouth. The CPAP machine continuously pumps air through the mask, allowing your child’s airway to stay open. There are also special nighttime appliances your child can wear that position their jaws in just the right way, keeping their airway open.
Central sleep apnea is treated in a different way. Your doctor may recommend a noninvasive positive pressure ventilation device (NIPPV). NIPPV is programmed to a predetermined number of breaths per minute, making sure a set number of breaths are taken even without a signal to breathe from the brain.
If you suspect your child has sleep apnea, call our office or your child’s pediatrician to schedule an evaluation. Untreated childhood sleep apnea may result in serious consequences. Luckily, with a watchful eye and some testing, sleep apnea is completely treatable!