Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by the frequent start and stop of breathing, is a common problem in children. Sleep apnea in children is recognized as the root of many attention and behavior complications during the daytime.
Symptoms of sleep apnea in children
Sleep apnea in children is categorized into three types. These are:
1. Obstructive sleep apnea
This form of apnea is caused when something obstructs the airway during sleep. Enlarged tonsils are the most common culprit of sleep apnea in children. When sleeping, the soft tissues in the back of the throat relax, allowing the tonsils to spread out over the back of the throat. Symptoms of obstructive apnea include:
- Periods of snoring, followed by a cessation of breathing for a few seconds. There is then a large gasp for air and the snoring resumes.
- Deep, labored breathing during sleep. Often, the child sounds as if he has been participating in heavy exercise.
- Restless sleep. The child moves around the bed, frequently waking and changing position.
2. Central sleep apnea
This disorder is caused by the failure of the brain to control breathing. The portion of the brain responsible for breathing either does not start correctly, or it may not maintain breathing functions. This rare type of apnea during sleep is usually found in premature babies whose respiratory functions have not fully developed. Symptoms can include:
- Change in color and temperature – the child appears blue and feels abnormally cool to the touch.
- Irregular breathing tempo – the child’s breathing goes from rapid to shallow to non-existent, and then back to rapid.
3. Complex sleep apnea
This disorder combines both obstructive and central sleep apnea. It is usually caused by the combination of enlarged tonsils and undeveloped respiratory functions.
Other symptoms include:
- drowsiness during the day
- inability to concentrate
- delayed growth and development
How to diagnose sleep apnea in children
Only a licensed doctor or sleep disorder practitioner can correctly diagnose this disorder; parents who notice any of its associated symptoms should immediately schedule an appointment with their pediatrician or ENT. Parents who have children who were diagnosed with either ADD or ADHD should consider having their children tested for apnea during sleep since a percentage of children diagnosed with these conditions also have a sleeping disorder.
Possible treatments for sleep apnea in children
Treatments for apnea during sleep include removal of tonsils and adenoids for children suffering from obstructive apnea. Children who suffer from central or complex apnea may be treated with medications to stimulate the respiratory system. They may also be treated with therapies that include the use of oxygen or a CPAP, continuous positive airway pressure, machine which forces air through the nose via a mask.
What to do if you think your child suffers from apnea during sleep
The most important thing is to stay calm. Children suffering from apnea during sleep can be treated when correctly diagnosed. Make an appointment with a pediatrician or ENT. If referred to a sleep specialist, prepare the child for the visit. Speak with the office before the appointment and find out what will happen during the appointment so the process can be explained to the child.
Until diagnosis, parents who suspect apnea during sleep should be patient with their child if their child seems inattentive or grouchy. Having the child sleep on his side helps in controlling the symptoms.
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