Sleep apnea can affect anyone regardless of age, including children. As a parent, you want what is best for your child to ensure they are healthy and not at risk of unnecessary harm.

Sleep apnea is a severe medical condition in which an individual’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common in children and adults. While obstructive sleep apnea is less common in children than it is in adults, it still affects between 0 and 5.7% of children, primarily when associated with obesity, and is generally considered underdiagnosed.

The best way for you as a parent to know if your child has sleep apnea is to understand the causes and symptoms to help determine when or if your child needs to be seen by a sleep specialist and do an at-home sleep test. The data from these tests help diagnose sleep apnea and determine the treatment to manage or resolve the issues. If you are concerned that your child has sleep apnea, keep reading to learn more about signs, symptoms, and treatments.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

The leading causes of obstructive sleep apnea include the following:

  • Childhood obesity — Children who are considered obese have a higher risk of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea due to airway constriction
  • Enlarged adenoids and tonsils A common risk for children who experience obstructive sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils or adenoids. They are located at the back of the throat and are a part of the immune system, and when enlarged, they constrict the airway, causing breathing to be more difficult during sleep.
  • Other common risk factors Other risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea in children include having an overbite or a small jaw, medicines such as opiates or sedatives, weak tongue and throat muscles due to conditions such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, nasal allergies, being around smokers, or having a family history of obstructive sleep apnea.

Causes of Central Sleep Apnea in Children

Central sleep apnea in children is much less common than obstructive sleep apnea. It is generally associated with rare genetic disorders in children, including congenital central hypoventilation syndrome or medical conditions that affect the nervous system and breathing. While an occasional central sleep apnea episode can be considered normal, having your child evaluated by a sleep specialist and completing a sleep test if they have any symptoms is essential.

Symptoms of Childhood Sleep Apnea

Even if your child is experiencing the following symptoms, working with a sleep specialist is the only way to determine if they have sleep apnea. Generally, snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea; not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

The following list are other symptoms your child may show if they have sleep apnea:

  • Snoring is one of the most common symptoms, and while it is often considered normal, it should not be overlooked, especially if your child gasps or snort while snoring or sucks in their chest.
  • High inspiratory squeaking sounds can indicate increased breathing effort because the upper airway collapses. If you hear these sounds while your child is asleep, especially when combined with snoring, it is essential to consult a sleep specialist to determine the cause.
  • Sternal retractions present themselves in an inward movement of the chest wall or an inward movement of the sternum while your child breathes in, indicating that more effort is required for your child to breathe. Sternal retractions can also be caused by lower airway obstruction, including asthma, upper airway obstruction, or lung issues, such as acute respiratory distress or pneumonia.
  • Talking in their sleep
  • Bedwetting, also known as enuresis, is quite common in children. While it can be caused by constipation, chronic kidney disease, or other medical conditions, it is essential to rule out obstructive sleep apnea as a possible cause.
  • Restless sleep, tossing and turning during the night, or noticing your child’s bed is messy in the morning can indicate that your child is trying to become comfortable or has breathing issues during sleep.
  • Coughing or choking while sleeping
  • Night sweats
  • Sleepwalking can be caused by various issues, including irregular sleep habits, stress, lack of sleep, certain illnesses, and sleep apnea. 
  • Night terrors are a dramatic sleep disruption that can be alarming and even terrifying for a parent to witness.  They can include sweating, breathing faster, bolting, upright, or screaming, which may indicate your child has sleep apnea.
  • Failure to thrive can lead to your child being lower on the growth and weight chart than other children in their age range. This happens because the deep sleep cycle is when growth hormones are released, often interrupted due to your child’s inability to breathe correctly. Failure to thrive is frequently a result of obstructive sleep apnea and is usually due to enlarged adenoids.
  • Mouth breathing during sleep
  • Insomnia

Sleep apnea in children can also lead to symptoms during the day, including the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
  • Sleepiness and tiredness
  • Behavior issues that are similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as impulsiveness, rebelliousness, and hyperactivity
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Irritability and emotional outbursts
  • ADHD/ADD symptoms Include forgetfulness, excessive talking, inability to entertain themselves, issues listening in class, inability to sit still, constantly interrupting others, challenges, waiting for a turn, difficulty paying attention, and disorganization

If your child has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, consider having a sleep test done with their doctor to ensure they are not suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. An early diagnosis of sleep apnea can help ensure your child gets the best possible treatment.

DreamZZ Sleep Center Can Help You and Your Child With Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment

If you or your child has insomnia, sleepiness or tiredness, snoring, dry mouth, difficulty sleeping, or other signs of sleep apnea, it is time to do a sleep test, and we are here to help.

At DreamZz Sleep Center, our highly experienced sleep specialists will create a personalized treatment plan to help you get the best night’s sleep possible and improve your quality of life and overall health.

Contact us to book a consultation today and get a restful night’s sleep tonight!