Nervous new parents often worry that their baby is going to stop breathing at night. They may tiptoe to their crib and put their ear close to make sure those little lungs are doing what they’re supposed to do. As their child moves into the toddler stage with no nighttime breathing problems, mom and dad may stop worrying.
But…some young children do develop a nighttime breathing issue where they stop breathing for a few seconds repeatedly through the night. If so, the son or daughter may have obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
What is obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in children?
Obstructive sleep apnea in children is a condition where the son or daughter briefly stops breathing while asleep then starts breathing again. These lapses in breathing may occur dozens (or more) times per night. The majority of kids with this impairment are between the ages of 3 and 6.
What causes obstructive sleep apnea in children?
The issue lies with the actual mechanics of breathing. The lungs may be working fine, but there is an obstruction in the passages of the mouth and nose. These passages connect to the windpipe and lungs. As the lungs push air into the windpipe, the tissue blockage moves open and closed.
The muscles in the head and neck help keep the upper airway open. When the child falls asleep, these muscles often relax. As a result, tissues fold closer together. If the airway is partially obstructed while awake, falling asleep may cause the passageway to close completely.
If a child snores, does that mean they have sleep apnea?
Not necessarily. Many kids with OSAS will snore, but snoring doesn’t guarantee the presence of sleep apnea.
It is typical for children with obstructive sleep apnea to snore, including with gasp-like pauses in breath. While most children with OSA snore, not all children who snore have OSA. Sleep Foundation.org
Snoring isn’t the only possible co-existing condition. Bedwetting and sleep-walking may be present as well.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea in kids?
As with adults, obese children are at an increased risk for sleep apnea. Research suggests obese children have an increased rate of sleep apnea. Fat in the belly, particularly, is more likely to be associated with OSA.
What about tonsils and adenoids?
In children, a common cause for breathing blockage is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These glands are located at the back and to the sides of the throat. They may grow too large. Or an infection may cause them to swell. They may then briefly block the airway during sleep.
Are the effects of sleep apnea the same in kids as adults?
There are differences between pediatric obstructive sleep apnea and adult sleep apnea. While adults usually have daytime sleepiness, children are more likely to have behavioral problems. The underlying cause in adults is often obesity, while in children the most common underlying condition is an enlargement of the adenoids and tonsils. Mayo Clinic
What are the symptoms of OSAS in children (Cedars-Sinai.org)
- Loud snoring or noisy breathing (gasping or snorting) during sleep
- Pauses in breathing, lasting usually a few seconds up to a minute
- Mouth breathing
- A nasal voice
- Restlessness during sleep
- Too much daytime sleepiness or irritability
- Hyperactivity during the day
- Behavioral problems
- Sleepwalking or night terrors
- Need for a nap past the age of napping
- Learning problems
- Morning headaches
For more information about OSAS in children, contact Houston Sleep Solutions at the number below.
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