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Sleep Apnea - Does Your Child Suffer From It

Sep 15, 2008
It is estimated that 2% to 4% of children in the United States under the age of ten suffer from childhood sleep apnea. These children frequently display behaviors and/or symptoms that are generally associated with other childhood disorders, not sleep apnea. These behaviors may include the tendency to resist going to sleep, restless or interrupted sleep patterns, bedwetting, irritability, depression, a diminished ability to learn and thrive academically, and excessive frustration or aggression. Unfortunately, because these behaviors are indicative of other serious disorders, many children are misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders such as Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a result, childhood sleep apnea often goes unnoticed and untreated.

In addition to behavioral problems, childhood sleep apnea can also cause serious health problems. There is an increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and stroke. In some cases, it can also cause a condition known as failure to thrive where the child fails to grow and gain weight at a normal rate. In infants, sleep apnea can lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) if left undiagnosed.

Children that suffer from sleep apnea often exhibit symptoms while they are asleep that are easily recognizable. Some of the more common symptoms include raspy breathing while they are asleep, light snoring in infants and toddlers or loud snoring in older children, breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, restless sleep that includes kicking and rolling around, gasping for air or choking while they are asleep, and pauses in breathing while they are asleep. All of these symptoms tend to have a negative impact on the way a child functions during the day. They may seem lethargic and/or have difficulty concentrating.

One of the most common forms of childhood sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is the actual blockage of the airways when the child is sleeping. The blockages can occur is several different ways. Children tend to have large tonsils and adenoids that are relatively close to the opening of their airways. When they lie down, the tonsils and adenoids fall into a position that block the airways, which causes episodes of sleep apnea. Obesity can also cause OSA. When a child is overweight, it tends to put more pressure on the airways, which in turn can lead to breathing difficulties. Facial or cranial deformities and neuromuscular disorders can also cause OSA. When the muscles in the throat relax during sleep they can block the airways.

In order to determine whether or not a child has sleep apnea they will have to undergo a sleep study. If they are diagnosed with this disorder there are several things that can be done to treat it. In many cases, the solution is to have the child's tonsils and adenoids surgically removed. In many cases, the apnea episodes completely subside after surgery. If surgery is not suitable, another option is a Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure Machine, also known as a CPAP machine. This machine delivers continuous air into the child's airways, forcing them to breath.

Childhood sleep apnea is a serious disorder that can have a negative effect on a child's quality of life. If your child exhibits any of the symptoms or behavioral problems associated with sleep apnea, have them tested. It is not difficult to treat and eliminating it can make a world of difference to a child that is suffering from it.
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