Snoring in children is a common event, with estimates placing it at about 12 to 15 percent. Most of these children are healthy, show no symptoms and have primary snoring. Snoring happens during sleep due to a blockage of air when breathing as it passes through the back of the mouth. The loudness is affected by how much air passes through and how fast the throat tissue is vibrating. Snoring can be due to an upper respiratory infection, allergies, or it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Infants and toddlers spend over half of their lives sleeping and, by adolescence, greater than on third of our lives are spent sleeping. Quality sleep is essential for proper development and daily functioning. Proper sleep helps with learning, consolidating memories, physical growth, recharging the body and helping our bodies fight infections.
Approximately 2 to 3 percent of children have OSA, which occurs when the posterior air collapses and blocks the throat. Frequent pauses in breathing, lasting from several seconds to a minute, often lead to the brain briefly waking up and causing us to breathe. This leads to gasping or snorting, waking us up and re-breathing. This can occur all through out the night.
Interrupted sleep can lead to behavioral issues, problems with social function, poor school performance and poor growth. These children are also more likely to be hyperactive and have trouble paying attention in school, mimicking signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Studies also show that children with OSA are at risk of developing heart and lung problems which can lead to serious consequences later in life if it goes undetected. Untreated OSA, in the short term, often leads to daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability, bed wetting and mouth breathing. The risk of apnea is higher in overweight children.
Other signs might include large tonsils and/or adenoids with frequent mouth breathing, restless sleep or sleep in abnormal positions, sleep in elevated position or with neck extended, excessive sweating during sleep, nasal speech, poor weight gain or being overweight, and high blood pressure. Even primary snoring (i.e. snoring without breathing pauses, frequent arousals, or drips in oxygen levels), which was once thought to be normal, still can lead to problems in school performance or behavior issues.
If you suspect your child may have symptoms of OSA don’t assume his or her snoring will go away on its own. Talk to your child’s doctor. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized this as a serious problem and has published recent guidelines for screening of obstructive sleep apnea, which will help doctors recognize, diagnose, and treat children with OSA.
Testing can be done if your child is suspected of having OSA, including an overnight sleep study. You may also videotape your child’s sleep to bring to the doctor for review. Night-time pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels is also a useful tool. Your doctor may refer your child to a sleep specialist as well, as sometimes these tests are normal even when your child may still have OSA.
Once your child has been found to have obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, referral to doctors who specialize in treating OSA include pediatric otolaryngologists (ENT), pulmonologists and neurologists. Treatment options usually include removing enlarged tonsils and adenoids (T&A). Often removing the tonsils and adenoids stops the snoring and helps with improved appetite and growth in young children. It also improves academic performance and behavior in school-aged children as they get more uninterrupted, quality sleep. Other options include treating allergies or helping children lose weight. A night-time treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is another option for children who can’t have surgery or have persistent OSA even after a T&A has been performed.
Remember to be suspicious that your child may have OSA if he or she regularly snores and has apnea, daytime sleepiness or school/behavior problems. If detected early, treatment of this problem may be reversible.
Dr. Michael E. Danter, Esse Health
O’Fallon Pediatrics: 9979 WingHaven Blvd, Suite 206
O’Fallon, MO 63368