Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes children to stop breathing during sleep. During an episode, the airways close partially as the muscles in the throat relax, causing the child to snore or jerk awake. Sleep apnea can cause your child to get restless, incomplete sleep. They may snore a lot and wake up multiple times during the night. As a result, they may have a difficult time staying energized during the day and be cranky, tired, and drowsy.
Lack of quality sleep can lead to developmental delays, cognitive issues, and behavioral and emotional problems in children. The sleep disorder also increases a child’s risk of heart and lung damage and puts them at risk of some medical conditions, such as heart disease.
Pediatric sleep apnea can be treated by an otolaryngologist or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
What Causes Sleep Apnea in Children?
Pediatric sleep apnea is usually caused by a blockage in the airways. The condition is also called obstructive sleep apnea, which is marked by a blockage in the upper airways. The blockage is often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
Tonsils are located in the back of the throat, while adenoids are located high up in the throat. Both tissues are lymphoid tissues and part of the immune system. They trap bacteria and viruses that enter the mouth through breathing or swallowing. However, both can become infected and swell to a size that can block the airways. Obese children are also at greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea since the accumulation of fatty tissue can cause the upper respiratory muscles to narrow.
Tonsils and adenoids usually shrink once children reach adolescence, but if they start causing problems in childhood, treatment is needed to avoid complications and long-term consequences.
What Can an ENT Doctor Do?
An ENT doctor specializes in treating conditions affecting the ear, nose, and throat. The training and experience of ENT doctors make them highly skilled in treating upper airway blockages that cause sleep apnea. Sleep apnea caused by tonsillitis or adenoiditis due to a bacterial infection is usually treated with antibiotics. If the infection resolves and the lymphoid tissue returns to normal size, the child can sleep through the night again.
However, tonsils and adenoids that keep getting infected may need to be removed. An ENT doctor can perform a tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils) or an adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoids). Both procedures require general anesthesia and can be performed in an outpatient setting. Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy are very common procedures in the United States and do not involve stitches, as the cut will heal on its own. Most children who undergo either surgery are back to normal in a week or so.
If the cause of a blockage is obesity, an ENT doctor can provide less invasive treatments. The doctor will discuss lifestyle recommendations with you to help your child get down to a normal weight. The doctor may prescribe a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) that keeps airways open during sleep and helps the child sleep uninterrupted through the night.
ENT Doctor in Georgetown, TX
Dr. Scott Franklin of Georgetown ENT has a background in otolaryngology and is fellowship-trained in sleep medicine. Dr. Franklin’s extensive training makes him uniquely qualified to treat pediatric patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
Dr. Franklin has treated thousands of children with sleep apnea brought on by enlarged tonsils and adenoids or obesity. If your child needs surgery, trust that we will be with you every step of the way, from pre-surgery planning to recovery.
To make an appointment, call our clinic at (512) 869-0604, or use our online request form. We look forward to helping your child breathe and sleep better.