Sleep Apnea & Children

Do you check in on your child while he is sleeping? Have you noticed any signs of disturbed sleep, such as restless tossing and turning, night sweats, mouth breathing, long pauses in breathing or snoring? If so, your child might be suffering from sleep apnea, which affects an estimated one to four percent of children aged two to eight.

There is a possibility that children may grow out of their sleep disorders, but leaving a sleep disorder undiagnosed and untreated may cause more health issues in the future. Studies have linked various attention-deficit disorders to disturbed sleep patterns, including sleep apnea; children's learning and behavior problems are a result of a troubled night's sleep. Even habits that children are expected to grow out of, like bed-wetting or sleep walking, have been discovered to be related to sleep apnea, along with stunted growth and hormonal problems.

Many studies have found a correlation between pediatric sleep disorders and obesity. Studies have revealed a good night's sleep was just as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise in preventing obesity. If you have noticed your child suffering from any of the symptoms listed in the first paragraph, find a pediatrician who specializes in sleep disorders.

Polysomnography is the way sleep apnea is diagnosed and assessed, which is conducted during an overnight stay in a sleep lab. Technicians who are experienced in working with children conduct the test, and a physician who specializes in pediatrics interprets the data. Because most children rarely experience obstructive apnea events, it is difficult to determine when a child's apnea is severe enough to warrant treatment. Most pediatric specialists believe an apnea index (AI) of more than one, or an apnea hypopnea index (AHI) of more than 1.5 as abnormal.

Recent studies have found parallel behavior problems in children who snore as well as children who have sleep apnea. Surgical removal or the tonsils and adenoids is usually recommended as apnea treatment. The operation cures apnea symptoms seventy to ninety percent of the time. For children who are obese or have a more severe case of apnea, being closely monitored the first few nights of sleep, since apnea symptoms might not appear until a few hours into the REM cycle. It can often take symptoms six to eight weeks to fully be cured, since there is generally post-operative swelling.

If surgery is not recommended or does not cure the symptoms, airway therapy, much like what is prescribed for adults, might be helpful. Positive airway pressure therapy (PAP) is intended only to relieve symptoms, not to cure them. Studies will be conducted to determine which type of therapy is best for the child, and should be conducted yearly, or when there are weight changes in older children and teenagers.

Other treatments are available depending on the child's individual case, and depend on risk factors such as allergy medications, inhalers, and treatments for other diseases or conditions.