Sleep apnea is a condition where a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels and poor quality of sleep. While more commonly diagnosed in adults, sleep apnea does also affect children. “Although it is hard to quantify, it is believed that 2 to 3% of children have sleep apnea, and that number may be as high as 10 to 20% in children who habitually snore,” says Matthew M. Meigs, MD, Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT), at ARC Far West Medical Tower.
What causes sleep apnea in children?
“In children, sleep apnea is usually caused by enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, which can obstruct the airway during sleep,” says Dr. Meigs. “Other risk factors for sleep apnea in children include obesity, craniofacial abnormalities, and neuromuscular disorders.”
What are the common symptoms of sleep apnea?
Symptoms of sleep apnea in children may include:
- Restless sleep
- Pauses in breathing
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Bed wetting
What are the possible treatments for pediatric sleep apnea?
Treatment for sleep apnea in children often involves surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids, which can eliminate the obstruction and improve breathing during sleep. Other treatments include:
- Weight loss
- Use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine
- Medicines, such as nasal steroids and decongestants, usually in conjunction with other treatment modalities
- Correcting sleep posture (i.e., side sleeping, elevating the head, and avoiding stomach sleeping)
It is important to consult with an ENT to determine the best course of treatment for a child with sleep apnea. “We will perform a thorough examination of your child's airway to determine the underlying cause of their sleep apnea symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Meigs. “We can also evaluate and manage other related conditions, such as allergies or sinus problems to improve your child's overall health and well-being.”
What are the risks of leaving sleep apnea untreated?
“Leaving sleep apnea untreated in children can lead to various complications, including behavioral problems, poor academic performance, and even growth issues,” says Dr. Meigs.
Here are a few potential risks of leaving sleep apnea untreated in children:
- Impaired cognitive function: Children with sleep apnea may experience daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
- Behavioral problems: Sleep apnea has been linked to behavioral issues such as hyperactivity, aggression, and emotional instability. Children with untreated sleep apnea may also experience mood swings, irritability, and difficulty regulating their emotions. Dr. Meigs also notes that “Children with untreated sleep apnea will sometimes be diagnosed and treated for ADHD due to behavioral problems related to impaired sleep. Many of these patients would not exhibit ADHD symptoms if their sleep apnea was addressed.”
- Growth and developmental issues: Sleep apnea has been linked to growth hormone deficiency and delayed development in children. This can impact their physical growth, as well as their cognitive and emotional development.
- Increased risk of accidents: Children with sleep apnea may be at an increased risk of accidents due to daytime sleepiness and impaired cognitive function.
- Quality of life: Children with untreated sleep apnea may experience decreased quality of life due to their symptoms, including difficulty sleeping and daytime fatigue.
Make an appointment with an appointment today
At ARC, our ENT doctors offer a wide range of pediatric ENT services specifically geared toward children. Conditions treated include sleep apnea, ear infections, sinus problems, snoring, head and neck tumors, hearing loss, speech delay, and voice disorders. ARC ENTs are located in multiple ARC Clinics around Central Texas. To make an appointment visit ENT Pediatric Care page, select the clinic most convenient to you, and call for an appointment.