Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that used to only afflict older people. As with most things however, that has changed. Sleep apnea is afflicting children and commonly goes undiagnosed and consequently untreated due to lack of awareness of the serious sleep disorder. People with sleep apnea (old or young) momentarily stop breathing repeatedly while asleep. Normal breathing accompanied by loud snoring resumes between stops, but the consequences of sleep apnea are not limited to sleep time only, childhood OSA has far reaching effects on children’s mental, physical and behavioral development. The name of the sleep disorder is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) and is usually called by the shortened name of ‘sleep apnea’ and has become a common health problem in children.
Causes of Sleep Apnea (OSA) in Children
One of the things that help pinpoint a diagnosis for sleep apnea in adults if often missing in children, making the diagnosis more difficult, and that’s being overweight. Most adults who suffer with sleep apnea are overweight, that’s not true in cases of childhood OSA. If a child is overweight, it may a contributing cause of OSA, but not the main cause of childhood OSA. The main causes of sleep apnea in children are allergies or enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children
Loud, continuous snoring is a common symptom in children that have OSA. Other physical symptoms to watch for are: mouth breathing, problems sleeping or restless sleeping, excessive daytime sleepiness, weight loss or poor weight gain, enlarged tonsils and adenoids. In addition to the physical symptoms of sleep apnea, children may have cognitive and behavioral symptoms stemming from OSA like problems paying attention, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.
Treatment for Childhood OSA
The treatment for childhood OSA varies depending on the underlying cause of the sleep disorder. The treatment plan may include weight loss, the nighttime wearing of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask to keep the airway open during sleep, treatment for allergies and/or the removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
Childhood OSA can cause several complications including poor growth, headaches, high blood pressure and impaired air and oxygen circulation in and out of the lungs which results in lowered blood oxygen levels that can cause permanent damage to the lungs and heart.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, (OSA, OSAS) have the child evaluated by a pediatric specialist, who may advise a sleep study be conducted on the child for diagnosis.