Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Sleep is important for your child’s growth, development, heart and lungs. Sleep apnea can affect your child’s health and their ability to learn and grow. Sleep apnea occurs when a person briefly stops breathing during sleep. It can range from being a mild condition to a serious problem. There are three different kinds of sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive: This is caused when your child’s throat muscles relax during sleep, or there is a blockage to their airway

  • Central: This is caused when your child’s brain fails to signal the muscles that control their breathing

  • Complex: This occurs if your child has both central and obstructive sleep apnea

What are risk factors for sleep apnea?

 Sleep apnea is more likely to occur in children with any of the following:

  • A small or uneven jaw

  • Swollen tonsils

  • Irregularly shaped palate

  • Obesity

  • A diagnosis like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy that causes poor muscle development

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

 During sleep:

  • If a child stops breathing and then begins choking or gasping for breath

  • Breathing through the mouth only

  • Snoring

  • Sleepwalking

  • Restlessness

  • Sweating

  • Wetting the bed

During waking hours:

  • Having trouble concentrating

  • Feeling sleepy

  • Acting grumpy or irritable

  • Being hyperactive

Diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea

 Your health care provider will do a physical exam of your child’s mouth, neck, and throat. The parent will be asked about the child’s sleep habits and sleep history. A sleep study is sometimes used to confirm sleep apnea. Treatment may involve the following:

  • Surgery

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which is a type of facemask that will improve your child’s breathing during sleep

  • Inhaled nasal steroids

  • Weight loss

  • Dental devices to modify your child’s jaw alignment while they sleep