When someone has sleep apnea, their sleep is habitually disrupted by breathing complications, which drastically affects sleep quality and results in daytime sleepiness. For children, this condition can sometimes cause restlessness and other behavioral issues that mimic the symptoms of ADHD. If any of this sounds familiar, your child may be suffering from this disorder. Keep reading to learn the symptoms, causes and treatment of children’s sleep apnea.
There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when soft tissue in the throat or the tongue relaxes and blocks the airway. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles that control the effort to inhale, causing a person to briefly stop breathing altogether. Loud snoring is a key symptom of OSA. However, not all children who snore have sleep apnea, and not all children who suffer from sleep apnea snore. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Night Sweats
- Sleep talking or walking
- Night terrors
- Night terrors
- Coughing or choking
There can be many different causes of OSA in children. But the most common sources include:
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Childhood obesity
- Having a small jaw or overbite
- Weakened throat muscles due to cerebral palsy or Down Syndrome
- Nasal allergies
CSA can occur in children for many different reasons. It’s also very important to be aware of the fact that central apnea events that occur while a child sleeps are often viewed as normal, which contributes to it going undiagnosed and untreated. Typically, CSA has been connected to genetic disorders in children. For example, congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, heart failure or stroke. Sleeping at a high altitude can also cause central sleep apnea.
The treatment of childhood sleep apnea will typically be determined based on the cause and the severity of the symptoms. A few treatments include:
- Surgical removal of tonsils or adenoids
- Oral appliance therapy
- Mouth and throat exercises can help improve OSA and snoring in children
- Orthodontic approaches that use dental devices to create more space in the mouth and airway to help make breathing easier.
- A CPAP machine that uses an attached mask to continuously pump air into the airway.
- The treatment of allergies and sinus medication with medications, saline nasal rinses or steroid nasal spray often accompanies other treatment options and is not typically a stand-alone solution.
If you notice that your child has daytime sleepiness, behavior issues, trouble concentrating or morning headaches, they could be battling sleep apnea. Your best bet is to visit your specially-trained sleep dentist to have them evaluated.
About the Author
Dr. Pamela West is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and has been involved in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea for more than 5 years. She works with a team of top medical experts throughout Nevada to identify the symptoms of sleep apnea, determine the causes of the condition and decide the most effective treatment for each patient. If you believe your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, contact the office at (702) 602-2000 or visit the website to schedule an appointment.