The Effects of Sleep Apnea in Children

When we talk about treatments and diagnosis of sleep apnea, we often refer to adults. The problem, however, affects almost 20 million Americans, and not all of them are adults. Many kids suffer with the condition, but the diagnosis, cause and treatments differ significantly. Knowing how to spot signs of sleep apnea in children can help a parent change their son or daughter’s life.

Symptoms of Child Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea in children is significantly different than adults, though the stoppage of breathing throughout the night is a common symptom. Kids, however, experience much shorter lapses in breathing as opposed to the ten-second stretches suffered by adults. These lapses transition to heavy and loud breathing patterns followed by loud snoring.

Sleep apnea snoring in kids is different than normal snoring. Where normal snoring consists of a steady in-and-out rhythm, sleep apnea snoring has breaks in the pattern. Snoring will not sound rhythmic, but unstable.

Dangers of the Condition

Children with this condition are at high risks for many health disorders. The most basic of these involve sleepiness or hyperactivity during the day. Kids may be restless, have concentration problems or suffer from apparent learning disabilities. They may be unable to sit still or remain in one place for too long.

Long-term effects of this problem are more dangerous and far-reaching. These can include respiratory issues and heart problems. All of these conditions are caused by a lack of restful sleep and can be misdiagnosed as other problems. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis can lead to lack of proper treatment and greater issues as time goes on.

Testing and Diagnosis

Testing for sleep apnea involves an examination by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor and potentially an appointment at a sleep clinic. During the appointment, the child will be hooked up to sensors and allowed to sleep. While they sleep, doctors and technicians will monitor their breathing patterns for signs of the condition.

If symptoms are present, the doctor can consult with parents to determine a proper course of treatment. The good news is that the condition is easily treatable and controllable, leading to a better quality of life for the child.

Causes and Treatment

In children, the cause of this ailment is generally related to tonsils and adenoids. If these are oversized, they can obstruct the child’s airways as they sleep and the blockage causes sleep apnea. In such cases, treatment can involve antibiotics or steroids to reduce the size of the blockage.

If medication fails, surgery can be used. A tonsillectomy and shaving down of the adenoids, removing up to 95% of the offending tissue, can alleviate the problem. Most kids don’t even suffer discomfort from the procedure, and recovery takes only a couple of days.

Have you noticed your child has heavy or interrupted patterns of breathing or loud and broken snoring? Do you notice them sleeping in strange positions, head tilted far back? If you have any questions about the potential for sleep apnea in your child, give us a call today. We are here to help!

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