Sleep Apnea in Children: Signs & Symptoms, Risks, Diagnosis & Treatment

Creating awareness about sleep apnea has become a great problem. Many people are of the notion that a typical sleep apnea patient is a middle-aged overweight male.

Even though this notion can be correct to an extent, but it does not encompass everyone that can be potentially afflicted with sleep apnea. Many women that suffer from sleep apnea usually get diagnosed with insomnia instead of sleep apnea as a result of this misconception. A lot of children with sleep apnea have been diagnosed with other disorders like ADHD, and so on even though they do not fit this patient profile.

Health Risks

The occurrence of sleep apnea in children is much lower compared to adults, even though it is still common enough to raise concerns. When sleep apnea is not properly treated in children, such a child will be prone to having adaptive, behavioral, and learning problems. Various symptoms of poor sleep that are caused by sleep apnea may end up establishing themselves as symptoms similar to that of ADHD. They may include difficulty with concentration and learning, hyperactivity, and poor academic performance.

Approximately 25% of children that have been diagnosed with ADHD may also have sleep apnea symptoms. Their behavioral and learning problems are alternatively related to fragmented or poor sleep. The odds of behavioral problems are usually higher in children with incident sleep apnea and are often serious in children with persistent sleep apnea. Children with sleep apnea are more likely to have parent-reported difficulties in the areas of attention, hyperactivity, communication, disruptive behaviors, self-care, and social competency.

Children with untreated sleep apnea are prone to developing cardiac issues and hypertension as they grow older.

Symptoms of child sleep apnea

In case you feel worried that your child having problems with sleep may be an indication of sleep apnea, here are a couple of sleep apnea symptoms you can be on the lookout for. Some of these signs may occur during the day, while most of these symptoms can be observed while they’re asleep

  • About 10% of children who snore while sleeping have sleep apnea.
  • Daytime sleepiness.
  • Mouth breathing.
  • The difficulty with concentration.
  • Breathing pauses during sleep.
  • Poor performance at school.
  • Poor attention span.
  • Behavioral issues.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

The main causative factors of sleep apnea in children include enlarged tonsils, enlarged adenoids, obesity, neck circumference, and age,

When the tissues are enlarged they tend to cause breathing problems during the day. The relaxation of these muscles while the child is asleep will allow the adenoids and tonsils to restrict the flow of air in the upper respiratory system. Hence, cause apnea problems during sleep.

Obesity is also a cause of sleep apnea. The more the fatty tissues in the throat, the more breathing will become disrupted during sleep.

Diagnosis: How can child sleep apnea be diagnosed?

The most efficient way to diagnose sleep apnea is to schedule a visit to a sleep facility to have an overnight polysomnogram. In pediatric polysomnograms, they measure brain activity, muscle movements, breathing, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate.

Parents are encouraged to sleep in the same room as the child to ensure the safety and comfort of children undergoing a sleep study.

Treatments for sleep apnea in children

Undergoing a surgery to remove the enlarged adenoid or tonsil tissue is the most effective way of treating sleep apnea.

For children having sleep apnea as a result of obesity, dieting and weight management is recommended.

Undergoing Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy are also be recommended.

Allergy medications may be recommended if the cause of sleep apnea is seasonal allergies.

Inhalers and asthma medications are recommended if respiratory disorders are the cause of sleep apnea.

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