Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by brief, repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Three are three types: central, mixed and obstructive, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 18 millions Americans have sleep apnea, and 2 to 20 percent of those Americans are children. Sleep apnea in children is usually caused by extremely large and obstructive adenoids and tonsils.

Health Effects

A recent NY 1 article shed light on the impact of sleep apnea on a child’s health and development. According to one medical expert, sleep apnea in children is different from sleep apnea in adults.

“Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder where a child, during their sleep, will stop breathing. And it’s very different than adult sleep apnea. In adult sleep apnea, the adults will stop breathing for about 10 seconds. In kids that time frame is much shorter,” said Dr. Vikash Modi of New York-Presbyterian Komansky Center for Children’s Health.

Dr. Haviva Veler of Weill Cornell Pediatric Sleep Center cautioned about the effects those breathing pauses have a child’s sleep. “The immediate effects of sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness or hyperactivity, inability to sit in one place, difficulty in concentrating and learning disabilities,” said Dr. Veler.

Symptoms to Watch For

You should immediately make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician if your child(ren)::

  • Snores loudly and frequently
  • Is difficult to wake up in the morning
  • Wakes up feeling tired
  • Is sleepy during the day
  • Breathes through his or her mouth during sleep
  • Has long pauses in his or her breathing during sleep
  • Tosses and turns in bed while trying to sleep
  • Has night sweats (due to increased effort to breathe)
  • Complains of headaches during the day, especially in the morning
  • Is irritable, cranky and aggressive
  • Talks with a nasal voice and regularly breathes through his or her mouth

These symptoms may not necessarily be those of sleep apnea, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, the sooner sleep apnea is detected, the sooner it can be treated before more serious health problems develop. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause heart disease, hypertension and memory and mood problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your pediatric may order a sleep study for your child, where a sleep specialist can monitor and record your child’s sleep patterns to determine whether or not he or she has sleep apnea. If your child does have sleep apnea, treatment will depend on the severity of the condition.

Medication will be the first course of treatment in an attempt to reduce the size of adenoids or tonsils. If this is ineffective, then surgery may be performed. In some cases, your child may be given a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask to wear during sleep that will keeps his or her airways open with air pressure.