A study published in the online journal Pediatrics shows that children who have sickle cell anemia are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea than children without the disease.

Sickle cell disease occurs in 1 out of every 500 in newborns nationally, with those of African American heritage being most likely to be diagnosed. It’s estimated that as many as 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell anemia. People with the disease experience severe episodes of pain, as well as increased risk of infections, stroke and organ damage.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is characterized by irregular breathing, snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep that can last from a few seconds to a minute, or more. In patients with sleep apnea, the soft tissues of the mouth and throat collapses, obstructing the airways during sleep. In addition to snoring, people with OSA may choke or gasp for air, which causes frequent sleep disturbances. OSA has been labeled as a precursor to a many life-threatening health problems, including heart attacks and strokes.

Because children with sickle cell anemia have lower than normal oxygen levels because of the disease, sleep apnea can have severe effects, as it too impacts oxygen levels during sleep.

Data from a total of 243 sickle cell anemia patients was analyzed for the study. Not only did the researchers find that there was a higher prevalence of sleep apnea in children diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, but also that kids that had sleep apnea had more severe symptoms of sickle cell anemia than those without the sleep disorder.

If you or your child has sickle cell disease, please consider having a sleep study done to determine if obstructive sleep apnea is a concern.  Atlanta ENT offers at home sleep studies, so that you can get peace of mind from the comfort of your own bed.

By Ramie A. Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT