About child sleep apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition where the airways become regularly blocked during sleep, causing a blockage in breathing. Sleep apnoea is a condition more commonly seen in adults, but can also occur in children. Although sleep apnoea is often experienced only mildly in children, it can still have adverse effects on a child’s health mainly through disrupting their sleep patterns.
Signs of sleep apnoea
It is slightly more difficult to recognise sleep apnoea in children than in adults. The most identifiable sign is waking during the night particularly when short of breath as you wake. Often children will not remember such instances or even realise that this is unusual. Additionally, because child sleep apnoea tends to occur where their airways are only partially blocked, they do not wake up as often as adults experiencing sleep apnoea.
Loud snoring is one identifiable sign, especially when unusually loud for a child. Another potential clue is if the child is tired during the day or has difficulty concentrating. Even if a child does not fully wake up from sleep apnoea, it still disrupts the rhythm of their sleep, making it harder for them to function during the day.
Tests for sleep apnoea
A few different tests can be done to establish if a child has sleep apnoea. The most reliable is a polysomnogram, which records a variety of vital signs through skin sensors. However, this test has to be performed in a sleep clinic, which can be distressing for the child. If you have a younger child, or one who has trouble sleeping in strange environments, your doctor may first suggest an oximetry test. This will measure your child’s oxygen levels overnight at home. However, this does not always deliver a clear diagnosis.
Options for treatment
What treatment is required will depend on what is causing your child’s sleep apnoea. One possible cause is blockage by the tonsils or adenoids. Some children have very large tonsils and adenoids in proportion to their airways, especially if they have had tonsil inflammations in the past. Removing them through adenotonsillectomy surgery can help clear the airway and eliminate (or vastly reduce) your child’s sleep apnoea.
Another common type of treatment is positive airway pressure. This consists of a small machine attached to a mask that your child wears while sleeping. The machine blows air to create enough pressure to keep the child’s airways open. This is the most likely treatment if the airways are closing for different reasons than tissue blockage. It is mostly used for child sleep apnoea, because a child may grow out of the condition as their airways develop and become larger.
Whatever treatment your doctor suggests, follow it carefully. Even if child sleep apnoea tends to be less severe than adult sleep apnoea, it can still have serious effects on your child. Children need undisturbed sleep to develop properly, and conditions like child sleep apnea can cause a whole range of problems, both physical and behavioral.
If you have questions about child sleep apnoea make an appointment to see our ear nose throat specialist. Contact us today.