It’s likely that you know someone who suffers from sleep disordered breathing, which usually manifests itself through obstructive sleep apnea. In most cases, we associate sleep apnea with adults, but children can also display signs of sleep apnea. However, it’s important to note that snoring is pretty common in children (a little over 10% of children in the general population snore), and it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a sign of sleep apnea. However, 1-3% of children who snore do have signs of sleep disordered breathing, so it’s important to know when to take action and what you can do. Indeed, 2-4% of those with sleep disordered breathing as children have obstructive sleep apnea. Since sleep disordered breathing can cause other health problems for children, it’s important to be proactive about preventive measures.
What is Sleep Disordered Breathing Exactly?
This type of disorder refers to breathing difficulties that happen when a child (or adult) is sleeping. It can manifest itself either as loud snoring or obstructive sleep apnea, which blocks the airway. The body thinks that the child is choking, so it in turn, slows down one’s heart rate, raises blood pressure and drops oxygen levels in the blood, and gets your brain up, ruining sleep.
There are actually three different manifestations of sleep disordered breathing. The most prevalent is obstructive sleep apnea, but there’s also central and mixed sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, there’s an obstruction of the airway, though the person will continue to try and breathe.
With central sleep apnea, your airway remains open, but there’s no respiration happening, as ventilation drive goes down. This can be one of the most troublesome, since there’s no snoring, which is one of the key symptoms for obstructive sleep apnea. Mixed sleep apnea is a cross between both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
How Can I Tell If It’s Normal Snoring Versus Sleep Disordered Breathing?
This is a “time will tell” kind of thing, in many cases. If you (or most likely your partner) notices that you’re a chronic snorer and that you’re snoring loudly, it could be a symptom of sleep apnea. You may also notice pausing in breathing if you’re observing your child’s sleep habits, which isn’t normal for snoring. However, just because you or your child snores doesn’t mean that you automatically have sleep apnea.
It’s likely that other symptoms will become prevalent, such as being constantly tired during the day, waking up with headaches or a sore throat consistently, increased irritability, or chronic low energy.
Why Should Sleep Apnea Be Checked Out?
Ear nose and throat problems in children and adolescents should always be checked out sooner rather than later and sleep apnea is not one of the common ENT problems. If it’s severe, airway reconstruction might be a possibility later on down the road, if your child is young.
Sleep apnea can lead to a higher risk for cognitive problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems. Since sleep apnea can interfere with one’s sleep, children might be more prone to acting out, being depressed or anxious, or be more aggressive.
What Are Preventive Measures We Can Take?
If you suspect your child has sleep disordered breathing, take him or her to their pediatrician right away. They may refer you to another pediatrician who specializes in treating children with sleep disorders. In many cases, removing the tonsils and adenoids is a preventive measure that is often recommended by pediatricians, to help treat obstructive sleep apnea.
Getting diagnosed early also can have a positive impact later in life — they know they might be prone to sleep apnea, and can watch for signs of it as an adult, where it can have an adverse effect on their cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and weight.
Luckily, sleep disordered breathing often isn’t serious enough to warrant drastic measures for treatment with children. However, it is important to continue to monitor the situation and make sure that your child’s sleep isn’t being interfered with, as it’s a crucial part of their growth.