According to the American Association of Family Physicians, up to 10 percent of children are affected by obstructive sleep apnea. But is it all that serious in children?
Actually, yes. Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders, but it’s serious at any age. And treating sleep apnea is not just about getting a good night’s sleep — it’s about improving overall health, too.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which your airway becomes blocked during sleep and you stop breathing for short periods. This causes you to wake up briefly throughout the night.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
The most common cause of sleep apnea is an oversized tongue, neck, tonsils or other tissues that block the back of the throat. Other factors include:
- A small jaw or chin
- An unusually narrow neck
- Excessive fat around the base of the tongue
- A deviated nasal septum (a deviation of the cartilage separating the nose into two separate cavities)
Causes of sleep apnea in children also include:
- Down syndrome
- Craniofacial abnormalities
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids also put kids at risk for sleep apnea.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Adults?
Symptoms vary depending on whether you have mild, moderate or severe OSA. The symptoms usually start with snoring, but they can also include loud gasping or choking sounds. Some people with sleep apnea may experience daytime fatigue, irritability, mood swings, headaches and dry eyes.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Sleep Apnea?
Children with sleep apnea often have symptoms similar to those of adults. However, their symptoms tend to be more frequent and disruptive. In addition, they may develop problems such as learning disabilities, behavioral issues and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The signs of sleep apnea in children include:
- Frequent pauses in breathing or shallow breaths
- Loud snorting or gasping noises
- Morning headaches
- Poor school performance
- Irritable behavior and night terrors
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Lack of energy
- Overweight or underweight
- Poor growth
- Coughing or wheezing
- Increased episodes of crying/mood swings
- Difficulty staying awake
If you think your child has pediatric sleep apnea, ask your doctor to check him or her for these signs.
How Does It Affect Your Health?
Sleep apnea can be dangerous because it interrupts normal breathing patterns while you’re asleep. When you don’t get enough oxygen, your body doesn’t work as well. You may feel tired when you wake up, have trouble concentrating and experience a lack of focus.
You also increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, memory loss, obesity and even certain types of cancer.
Sleep Apnea and Bedwetting
Children living with sleep apnea often experience bedwetting beyond potty training years as a side effect of sleep apnea. This is because the body does not reach the level of sleep in which bladder contractions are turned off, causing urine to leak out of the bladder through the night.
Sleep Apnea and Delayed Growth in Children
Studies show that untreated OSA in children can lead to delayed physical development. For example, kids with untreated OSA grow more slowly than other kids their age. This is because the body does not reach the stage of sleep in which growth hormone is produced, so the child grows at a slower rate and can be undersized compared to their peers.
Sleep Apnea and Behavioral Problems in Children
Kids with untreated OSA may also suffer from behavioral problems like ADHD, aggression and anxiety. These behaviors can affect both social and academic activities. Untreated OSA has been linked to depression and other mental health issues and has been found to increase the risk for suicide attempts among teens.
Additionally, in many situations, individuals affected by childhood sleep apnea are prescribed unnecessary medication as a result of their misdiagnosis.
Undiagnosed sleep apnea can also impact academic performance. When kids are tired, they cannot concentrate in school and may do poorly with assignments.
Do Kids Grow Out of Sleep Apnea?
Some kids may grow out of obstructive sleep apnea, however not all kids do. In many cases, sleep apnea can go unnoticed until it becomes severe in adulthood. This puts the child at risk of serious and potentially deadly health conditions including:
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Various cancers
Treating Sleep Apnea in Children and Teens
If you suspect that your child has sleep apnea, talk to us about treatment options. If your child is diagnosed with OSA, then your next steps will depend on how severe the condition is. Call us now to schedule an appointment.