Children can snore too? Absolutely! In fact, many children snore. While the old saying suggests that snoring indicates a sound sleep, the reality may be different. Snoring not only captures attention but can also be a sign of underlying sleep disorders. If you have a chronic snorer at home, it is likely that your child is showing signs of sleep apnea.
Sleep specialist Dr. Indra Narang emphasizes that obstructive sleep apnea is a common cause of sleep-related breathing disorders in children, affecting approximately 2%-4% of them.
How can you determine if your child has sleep apnea? Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway collapses, preventing air or oxygen from entering when your child inhales during sleep. This leads to decreased oxygen levels, triggering brief awakenings or arousals in the brain. As the brain wakes up, the airway reopens, and your child resumes normal breathing.
The primary cause of sleep apnea in children is often enlarged tonsils. When tonsils located at the back of the throat become enlarged or exceed their normal size, they can obstruct the airway during sleep, resulting in sleep apnea.
Recognizing the symptoms is crucial. Common signs of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping or choking sounds, pauses in breathing, and breathing through the mouth.
Sleep apnea can have significant effects on children. The frequent disruptions in their sleep lead to extreme fatigue, making it challenging for them to wake up in the morning and causing daytime irritability.
Younger children may exhibit symptoms beyond hyperactivity and display disruptive behavior. They may also feel excessively tired and attempt to nap at inappropriate times, even when they no longer require daytime naps (usually around five years old). Older children may struggle to concentrate in school.
Parents should carefully observe symptoms of sleep apnea in children, as they may be mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD. Symptoms such as difficulty sitting still, emotional regulation challenges, and lack of focus could actually be attributed to sleep apnea.
Untreated sleep apnea in children can lead to poor academic performance, decreased attention, learning and memory capabilities, and an increased risk of hypertension and diabetes. It also contributes to the risk of obesity due to chronic sleep deprivation and increased food intake.
The recommended treatment for otherwise healthy children is the removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Nasal corticosteroids may be prescribed for nasal congestion or inflammation. However, for children with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea or obesity-related sleep apnea, adenotonsillectomy may not be sufficient. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices are an alternative option, although acceptance and compliance may be a challenge for some children.