Sleep is essential for adults and children. Sleep apnea in children can affect their daytime behavior and disrupt your child’s sleeping patterns.

If you notice your child experiencing specific symptoms associated with lack of sleep or inadequate sleep, it could result from sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which happens when there is airway blockage.

As a parent, you want to do everything you can to ensure your children are healthy and happy, including getting the sleep and oxygen needed for their brain and body. This article will discuss childhood sleep apnea, its types, symptoms, causes, and how to manage and treat it for your child.

What is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric sleep apnea occurs when there are pauses in your child’s breathing pattern when they are sleeping, resulting in frequent disruptions in sleep during the night. Even though these disruptions are brief, they can affect your child’s sleep pattern, leading to overtiredness during the day.

The three main types of pediatric sleep apnea include:

  • Central sleep apnea is a rare sleep apnea that generally affects newborns. It occurs when the baby’s brain has trouble communicating with the muscles responsible for regulating breathing.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly diagnosed form of pediatric sleep apnea, which occurs when a child has a blockage in their airways.
  • Complex sleep apnea is a form of central sleep apnea, and it occurs when a patient who has obstructive sleep apnea receives treatment with a CPAP machine and then develops central sleep apnea.

Pediatric sleep apnea occurs in up to one to five percent of the population, from babies to adults. The most common age for childhood obstructive sleep apnea is between the ages of 2 and 6 years old.

Pediatric sleep apnea can lead to the following issues:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Growth and developmental challenges
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Cardio, pulmonary disease (lung and heart disease)
  • Issues with a child’s emotional capacity, behavior, and academic performance
  • Sleepiness or tiredness

Symptoms and Causes of Pediatric Sleep Apnea

The symptoms and signs of childhood sleep apnea that occur during sleep can include the following:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Mouth breathing, snoring, or loud breathing
  • Pauses or stops breathing
  • Choking or coughing
  • Tossing and turning
  • Night sweats

The symptoms and signs of childhood sleep apnea during the day may include the following:

  • Morning headaches
  • Irritable mood, emotional or behavioral problems, or aggressiveness
  • Lack of focus or inattentiveness
  • Fatigue
  • Bedwetting
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

Causes of Pediatric Sleep Apnea 

When a child’s brain miscommunicates with muscles in their airway, it can cause central sleep apnea. If your child has a blockage or obstruction in their airway, it can cause obstructive childhood sleep apnea

Obstructions or blockages in children’s airways can be caused by:

  • Bone structure abnormalities such as a narrow facial bone structure like an overbite or a small jaw that affects air intake.
  • Enlarged adenoids or tonsils and glands in the back of the throat can get more significant if your child has inflammation or infection and are the most common cause of pediatric sleep apnea. Sometimes, they can be larger due to a genetic trait.
  • Changes in muscle tone due to specific genetic conditions like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome can lead to muscle changes in a child’s neck and head. Even when a child has typical muscle tone during the day, their muscle tone may decrease at night. 
  • A tumor, while rare, can cause an airway obstruction

What Increases the Risk for Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Several factors can increase the risk of a child developing sleep apnea, including the following:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • A cleft palate or pharyngeal flap surgery
  • Family history of sleep apnea 
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Being overweight
  • Acid reflux
  • Having an upper respiratory infection

Pediatric Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Your child’s healthcare provider will discuss the symptoms, ask questions, and perform an examination. A sleep specialist will most likely conduct the following:

  • A sleep study or home sleep test will monitor your child while they sleep, including their heart rate, brain activity, airflow through the nose and mouth, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood, muscle activity, abdominal wall, and chest movements and sleep disruptions.
  • An upper airway evaluation may be conducted, as well as a physical exam and occasionally other procedures, such as an x-ray or scope, to determine what is causing the blockage in your child’s nose.
  • A sleep history report to understand your child’s sleep patterns

Treatment of Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Depending on the severity and causes of your child’s sleep apnea, treatment options may include the following:

  • Surgery may be an option if the child needs to have enlarged tonsils or adenoids removed or to modify structural abnormalities in their neck and head to make additional room in their airway.
  • Lifestyle changes, including regular exercises to naturally expand the airways or altering the child’s diet to help them improve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Medications that can help to keep their airway open or clear them up if allergies are to blame
  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) which would involve the child to wear a mask while sleeping to ensure they can breathe normally while asleep
  • BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) which can help children who can’t tolerate CPAP therapy
  • Oral appliances such as a mouthpiece or dental device to help expand the palate and nasal passages may be helpful for some children.
  • Avoid allergens and airway irritants that can cause congestion and airway irritation.

Help Your Child Sleep Better With DreamZZ Sleep Center

Restful sleep is a necessity for everyone, including children. Without it, you may notice your child struggling throughout the day with tiredness, hyperactivity, and struggling to pay attention.

At DreamZz Sleep Center, we aim to ensure everyone gets the restful night’s sleep they deserve. Working with a specialist to help test and develop a specialized treatment program for your child can ensure proper diagnosis and the most effective options to support your child in getting a great night’s sleep.

Contact us to book an appointment, and we will start your treatment as soon as possible.