Sleep Apnea in Children:
Can My Child Have Sleep Apnea?
You may think obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) only occurs in adults; however, it’s possible for your child to suffer from the sleep disorder, too. It’s been found that sleep apnea affects between 1 and 5% of children, and up to 27% of children suffer from habitual snoring, one of the main symptoms of OSA.
Understanding the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children
What makes it tricky to correctly diagnose sleep apnea in children is that it mimics other disorders, such as ADHD. Also, be aware that the symptoms of OSA often show up differently in children than they do in adults.
There are some symptoms that you can be on the lookout for if you suspect your child suffers from a sleep disorder. If he or she demonstrates any of these symptoms, we recommend that you see a doctor to get the correct diagnosis.
Some warning signs of sleep apnea in children include:
- Loud snoring that occurs on a regular basis
- Long pauses in breathing during sleep
- Waking up with a gasp
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating at school
- Slow growth
How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Child
If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health issues for your child, including heart problems, as well as lead to diabetes and issues with cognitive function. Childhood obesity has also been linked to sleep disorders.
In addition, your child may experience difficulties at school because they feel tired during the day, lack energy, and have trouble concentrating on their studies. All of this could be due to the lack of the full, restful sleep they need each night in order to feel refreshed each morning.
The Link with ADHD
Some symptoms of OSA– such as trouble concentrating, irritability, and daytime fatigue–can be incorrectly diagnosed as ADHD, which can lead the child to be unnecessarily medicated. In fact, studies show that as many as 25% of ADHD diagnoses can be linked to symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing including sleep apnea.
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or another behavioral problem, or you just suspect your child may have a sleep disorder, ask your doctor to have them tested for sleep apnea.
Treating Sleep Apnea in Children
The first step is to see your child’s doctor who can recommend the necessary tests, including a sleep study. Your doctor may also refer you to a sleep specialist.
If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend several types of treatments, depending on the cause of OSA. If large tonsils or adenoids are blocking your child’s airway, your doctor may recommend removing them. Your doctor may also recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which is a mask your child wears throughout the night to help them breathe.
If your child has mild-to-moderate sleep apnea, he or she may be a candidate for a customized oral appliance. These devices are similar to a mouth guard and are worn overnight to help reposition the tongue and soft tissues, freeing up the airway.