Sleep disorders are more common in children than most people think. Pediatric sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a child’s breathing to be partially or completely blocked repeatedly during sleep. Further investigation by a doctor is highly recommended if you think your child has this condition.
Pediatric sleep apnea is a condition that, over time, can significantly impact a child’s development. Continually not getting enough rest, combined with low levels of oxygen in the blood (which occurs during sleep apnea) can lead to significant complications, such as developmental, behavioral, and learning problems. It is important to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment if you suspect your child has the condition in order to prevent these complications.
What Causes Pediatric Sleep Apnea?
The underlying cause of adult sleep apnea in a majority of cases is obesity, leading to symptoms such as daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Pediatric sleep apnea, however, is often caused by an enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids (the germ-fighting tissues at the back of the throat). Obesity and other underlying factors, such as neuromuscular disorders and craniofacial abnormalities, can also contribute to the condition but are less common.
There are several types of sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type in children. The condition occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax, causing the airway to narrow or close when breathing in. If a child has enlarged tonsils or adenoids, they can obstruct or block the upper airway, making it difficult to breathe, which lowers the oxygen level in the blood. As the brain senses the body’s inability to breathe, it can cause the child to wake momentarily to take a breath. This pattern of sleeping and waking may occur all night, preventing deep, restful sleep.
Signs and Symptoms
Pediatric sleep apnea can cause a number of signs and symptoms. During sleep, symptoms can include:
- Waking momentarily to take a breath (sometimes with a gasp, snort, cough, or choke)
- Pauses in breathing
- Restless or disturbed sleep
- Mouth breathing
- Night sweats
- Night terrors
Night-time symptoms are not always as obvious in children, but disturbed sleep associated with sleep apnea may lead to problems during the daytime. Signs can include:
- Poor performance at school
- Low attention span
- Behavioral issues
- Learning problems
- Poor weight gain
- Tiredness/falling asleep during the day
Pediatric sleep apnea can lead to a failure to thrive, cognitive and behavioral difficulties, as well as hormonal and metabolic problems, thereby preventing the child from growing and developing as they should. If you suspect your child has sleep apnea, early diagnosis and treatment are strongly recommended in order to prevent potential complications with your child’s development.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Pediatric Sleep Apnea
A specialist ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor can diagnose sleep apnea. They will start by reviewing your child’s symptoms and medical history, as well as conducting a physical examination of the neck, mouth, throat, tonsils, and adenoids. Sleep testing is also usually recommended to accurately diagnose pediatric sleep apnea. A sleep study is a painless test carried out either at home or in a sleep lab. It provides essential information about your child as they sleep, such as:
- Oxygen intake
- Blood circulation and blood oxygen levels
- Heart rate
- Breathing rates and patterns
- Eye movements
- Snoring and other noises
- Body movement and sleep positions
Treatment for pediatric sleep apnea will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. In a majority of cases, a tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy is recommended to treat pediatric sleep apnea, but other treatments may include radiofrequency ablation (RFA), a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive air pressure (BiPAP) device, nasal surgery, or using an oral appliance.
Pediatric Sleep Apnea Treatment in Georgetown, Texas
If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, visit the Sleep Center at Georgetown ENT. Our board-certified ENT surgeon and sleep medicine specialist are dedicated to providing your family with the highest quality medical care. We are able to accurately diagnose your child’s sleep disorder in order to treat it effectively.
If you would like to book a consultation or would like to find out more about the services we provide, call our Georgetown office at (512) 869-0604, or alternatively, you can request an appointment online.