According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 1 to 4% of children in the United States are diagnosed with sleep apnea and most of them are between ages 2 to 8 years.
What is child sleep apnea?
Child sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a child takes short pauses in breathing while sleeping.
What causes child sleep apnea?
Pediatric sleep apnea is often caused because the muscles in the upper airway relax while the child sleeps. This makes the muscles susceptible and allowsthe tonsils and adenoids to restrict the airflow in the upper respiratory system. This causes sleep apnea in children.
It can be genetic and can also occur in children who have large adenoids and tonsils. If sleep apnea is untreated or undiagnosed, it can pose behavioral as well as physical problems in children.
What are the sleep apnea symptoms in children you need to watch out for?
A child with sleep apnea may have the following symptoms:
- Regularly snore loudly
- Pause, snort or gasp and may actually stop breathing. Their own snorts or gasps may awaken them from their sleep.
- Sleep in abnormal positions or be restless throughout the night
- Sweat profusely during sleep
- Tooth grinding (bruxism)
During the day,
- Difficulty in waking up
- Wake up with a headache
- Get cranky, irritated or agitated
- Fall asleep or daydream
- Breathe through the mouth and speak with a nasal voice
If you see these signs in your child, talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric dentist. Consulting a pediatric dentist may seem an unlikely suggestion, but it is the right way to go about it because pediatric dentists are probably the first in line to detect sleep disorders.
If a pediatrician or a pediatric dentist thinks you are showing signs of sleep apnea, a sleep study may be conducted.
How is sleep apnea medically diagnosed?
A test called polysomnogram may be conducted to assess whether a child is suffering from sleep apnea. The test is painless and requires you to stay overnight at the sleep clinic along with your child.
During the sleep study, the following is monitored:
- Eye movement and muscle activity
- Brain waves
- Oxygen levels in the blood
- Gasping and snoring while sleeping
What are the treatment options?
If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a number of treatment options available. The doctor may choose the treatment option that is best suited for your child’s condition.
Surgery: A widely accepted treatment for childhood sleep apnea is the surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids. This procedure is known as adenotonsillectomy.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This therapy requires wearing a mask while sleeping. A tube connects the mask to a portable unit, which then applies pressure to open the throat muscles and prevent them from blocking the air passage, thus allowing regular breathing. For more information, see CPAP Direct.
Diet and Medication:Some children may suffer from sleep apnea due to obesity. Doctors may recommend diet and weight loss programs to correct the sleep problem.Medication may be prescribed, which may include antibiotics (if surgery was done) or topical intranasal application of corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory medication.
Oral Appliance Therapy: This therapy has emerged as an alternative to surgery and CPAP therapy. This therapy makes use of a dental device that works as a mouthpiece moving the bottom jaw and tongue forward to keep the upper airway open for the child to breathe normally. The oral appliance therapy can be worked out under the supervision of a pediatric dentist.
Dentists can detect the early signs of sleep apnea. Therefore, you must involve your family dentist in your child’s healthcare program. Get a regular dental check-up done to ensure that your child receives the right treatment at the right time.
About the Author
Shen Chao is part of Dr. Joshua Hong’s Smile Clinic. While working for the Smile Clinic, he’s gained first hand experiences into the questions and concerns that dental patients have. He has been writing to inform people about various dental topics to help his readers improve their oral health. When he’s not working, you can find him on a hiking trail with his dog or having a Sunday cook-out with friends.