September 8, 2014

Symptoms Your Child Might Have Sleep Apnea


Do you have a child that is chronically tired, snores loudly at night or suffers from hyperactivity? If your child experiences any or all these sleep disturbances it could be the cause of a more serious life threatening condition called sleep apnea. A good way for parents to put their minds at ease is to be aware of general symptoms related to this sleep disorder, they will then have the option to seek specialized medical attention if necessary.

Sleep apnea is when normal breathing during sleep ceases for up to 10 seconds at a time. Some of the side effects of sleep interruption include tiredness during the daytime and an adverse affect on a persons quality of life.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the more serious form of this sleep disorder. Harvard Medical school defines OSA as follows, “Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much when you are asleep. This lets the tissues around your throat close in and block the airway. You stop breathing for a few seconds (this pause in breathing is called apnea). Your brain has to wake you up enough so you gasp or change positions to unblock the airway. You aren’t even aware it’s happening. These stop-breathing episodes can occur dozens of times per hour, making you feel tired the next day. Even worse, they increase blood pressure and heart rate, putting stress on the cardiovascular system and increasing your risk for a stroke.”

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea in Children Can Be Tricky

Pediatric OSA is more difficult to diagnose in small children as they may be too young to verbalize their general well being, parents should be especially observant for the following signs.

  • inability to gain weight
  • general irritability
  • loud audible mouth breathing
  • enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • excessive tiredness (children should get at least 10 hours of sleep per night)
  • hyperactivity
  • attention deficit disorder
  • learning issues
  • obesity
  • delayed growth
  • craniofacial abnormalities
  • allergies
  • Treacher collins syndrome a condition that affects the development of bones in the cranium
  • Crouzon syndrome (craniosynostosis) the premature fusion of the skulls bones

ADHD, Children and Sleep Apnea

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health disorder affecting children in the United States. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration published a study entitled “Trends in the Parent-Report of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed and Medicated ADHD: United States, 2003-2011.” The simplified translation of this title should be “Parents who have taken their children to a health care provider to be diagnosed for ADHD.” This study revealed that 11 percent or 6.4 million children aged 4 to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. The study went on to reveal that ADHD increased from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2011. These numbers can not all be attributed to sleep apnea, however sleep apnea appears to be a factor in numerous individual studies with children diagnosed with ADHD. Sleep apnea and ADHD is a controversial connection that requires more hard data to back up these claims. I mentioned the CDC study in this article as a guideline for parents to be aware of if their child may have been diagnosed with ADHD.

The more signs a parent observes surrounding sleep apnea the sooner treatment can be made available by a qualified Pediatric ENT or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Unruly children who misbehave in class may very well have a clinical reason behind their actions that should be evaluated by a qualified professional for OSA.

Enlarged Tonsils

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids is an easily identifiable symptom in children experiencing sleep disorders related to sleep apnea. Diagnosing children with enlarged tonsils is easier than verifying some of the other symptoms which can be attributed to many other different ailments. A child diagnosed with sleep apnea who has enlarged tonsils can be examined by an ear, nose, throat specialist or pediatrician who can advise if a tonsillectomy is necessary to restore proper airflow. In up to 75 percent of reported cases the tonsillectomy procedure has been shown to cure sleep apnea in children. Depending on the physician advising the parents of a child with OSA they may recommend a sleep study before they consider surgically removing the tonsils. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study titled “Diagnosis and Management of Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome” where they discovered that adenoidectomy or tonsillectomy were highly effective in treating high risk patients who had Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS).

Obesity and the Sleep Apnea Link

There is ample evidence of a link between obesity and OSA in children and adolescents. The rate of OSA in this group has been recorded as high as 60 percent. Another study revealed that 46 percent of children undergoing polysomnography treatment were obese. Children especially in developed countries are at ever increasing risks for obesity. Researchers and Doctors measure the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine obesity, children who test in the 95th percentile are classified as obese. Children who are already obese and are experiencing some of the symptoms outlined in this article should also be tested for OSA.

Sleep Study for Children

For a definitive answer to the question regarding if your child has sleep apnea consider a pediatric sleep study or polysomnogram at a sleep clinic. This test measures the four stages of sleep including brain wave activity and certain body functions pertaining to sleep.

Children Can Heal from Sleep Apnea

The numerous methods outlined here to diagnose sleep apnea and the resources available to a qualified D.D.S. to treat this condition are available to the parent who is concerned for the welfare of a child who may have the symptoms discussed in this article.

Rest assured help is available from a wide range of sources, the next time your child complains of chronic tiredness set up a consultation with your dental specialist for an initial appointment. Sleep apnea is a treatable condition where if caught early will prevent future health issues for your child.

About Dr. Michael Layton

Dr. Michael Layton - South Surrey DentistDr. Michael Layton (DDS) is the dentist for Peace Arch Dental, a dental office in the South Surrey/White Rock, B.C. area. He has been in the dental industry for the last decade and received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington. He takes pride in providing positive and caring dental solutions for people of every walk of life. You can follow him on Google+.