Sleep apnea is a condition where a person's normal breathing pauses during sleep. In children, this often happens because something obstructs, or blocks, the upper airway. This is called obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Alvarado, can you tell us more?
Definitely, Dr. Patel. When we sleep, our muscles relax, including the muscles in the back of the throat that keep the airway open. If these muscles relax too much, it can collapse the airway and cause obstructive sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids are another common cause of obstructive sleep apnea.
When breathing is obstructed, oxygen levels in the body drop and carbon dioxide levels rise. This triggers the brain to wake the body so it can resume normal breathing, but most people who have sleep apnea go right back to sleep without ever knowing they woke up. As this pattern repeats all night, it causes disrupted, poor quality sleep.
Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in children include:
- Snoring, often with pauses, snorts, or gasps
- Heavy breathing while sleeping
- Mouth breathing
- Very restless sleep and sleeping in unusual positions
- Bedwetting that starts suddenly after a child has stayed dry at night for six months or more
- Daytime sleepiness or behavior problems
- School problems, and
- Sleepwalking or night terrors
When a child routinely fails to get the restful, deep sleep they need because of sleep apnea, they can start to have problems with learning, behavior, growth, and, rarely, their heart.
If enlarged tonsils or adenoids are causing your child's sleep apnea, your child's provider may recommend surgically removing the tonsils and adenoids. Uncontrolled or untreated allergic rhinitis can also cause enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids, so allergy treatment may also help relieve obstructive sleep apnea. For other causes of obstructive sleep apnea, a provider may suggest continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, therapy. This involves wearing a mask that pumps air to open the airways during sleep.