Pediatric Sleep Apnea: Everything You Should Know

When you think of sleep apnea, a child likely is not the first picture that comes to mind. Sleep apnea is prevalent in adults, but not many people know it is also a condition that can affect children. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, sleep-disordered breathing is common in children. From 3 percent to 12 percent of children snore, while obstructive sleep apnea syndrome affects 1 percent to 10 percent of children. The majority of these children have mild symptoms, and many outgrow the condition. However, it can also have long-lasting negative impacts if symptoms are more severe and the child does not outgrow them. Keep reading to learn more about Pediatric Sleep Apnea, including causes, symptoms, and what to do.

What Is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Pauses in breathing during sleep characterize sleep apnea (also known as sleep apnea in children). The pauses may be infrequent or every couple of minutes or even more often. Breathing between pauses is also shallow. After a pause, normal breathing resumes but is sometimes accompanied by a loud snort or a choking sound, according to Yale University. While pediatric obstructive apnea is similar to adult obstructive sleep apnea, there are a few differences. For instance, children typically experience a partially narrowed airway, whereas, for adults, the airway is usually completely blocked.

What are the Causes of Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

There is no single cookie-cutter cause of pediatric sleep apnea which can make it challenging for parents to realize their child is suffering from it. There can be many causes of pediatric sleep apnea, from certain increased risk factors to a history of using pacifiers. Addressing these risk factors can help improve sleep apnea symptoms.

Increased Risk Factors

Several risk factors can put a child at an increased likelihood of developing pediatric sleep apnea. These include:

  • Asthma. If a child has asthma, they already have breathing that is inhibited. While sleeping, this can translate into snoring and sleep apnea.
  • Allergies. Congestion is one of the major culprits of snoring in children. It is common for children to snore when congested with allergies, a cold, or other flu-like symptoms. However, if your child snores regularly due to allergies, getting it addressed with a medical professional is essential.
  • Large or swollen tonsils. Large and swollen tonsils can cause an obstruction in the airways, which is the leading cause of sleep apnea in children. If your child has red, swollen tonsils, white or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils, a sore throat, difficult or painful swallowing, a fever, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, or a scratchy voice, make sure you take them to the doctor to have their tonsils evaluated.
  • Obesity. Much like in adults, overweight children are more likely to snore and develop sleep apnea. Weight gain causes the airways to narrow and make it more difficult to breathe. A lifestyle change with your child can help address this issue.

History of Bottle Feeding, Pacifiers, and/or Digit Sucking

Bottle feeding, the use of pacifiers, and digit sucking are all common among babies and toddlers. In fact, 76% of babies will have used a bottle by six months, 84% of babies have used a pacifier at some point through the first year, and 90% of newborns show some form of hand sucking, according to Stanford. Prolonged use of any of them, however, come with their own set of risks.

Bottles, pacifiers, and digit sucking after the first year can harm the growth and development of the mouth and teeth, cause changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth, and can also prevent proper growth of the mouth and create problems with tooth alignment. Breastfeeding strengthens the facial muscles and grows the maxillary complex forward, expanding the palate, according to the National Library of Medicine. While breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed your baby with the least chances possible of developing sleep apnea, it can be unrealistic for many families for a variety of reasons. Talk with your pediatrician about the best ways to wean from bottles and pacifiers to minimize negative impacts.

Symptoms of Pediatric Sleep Apnea

If you suspect that your child is suffering from pediatric sleep apnea, it is important to self-assess so that you have a list of symptoms to talk with your child’s pediatrician about. Make sure you monitor their sleep in addition to taking note of all their behavioral symptoms.

Symptoms of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, according to Yale University, include:

  • Snoring, often with pauses, snorts, or gasps between breaths
  • Heavy breathing while sleeping
  • Extremely restless sleep
  • Bedwetting (especially if a child previously stayed dry at night)
  • Daytime sleepiness or behavioral problems
  • Frequent throat infections, such as strep throat

Some of the behavioral problems to watch out for that can correlate with pediatric sleep apnea include:

  • Consistently difficult to wake. Pediatric sleep apnea greatly impacts the quality of one’s sleep, which can make children difficult to wake up. If you find yourself struggling every day to get your child out of bed, it might not be simple laziness: It could be a sign of sleep apnea.
  • Symptoms of ADHD. Poor sleep causes hyperactivity in children. They may become disorganized, have problems focusing, become frustrated quickly, become impulsive, or seem very fidgety Many children who suffer from pediatric sleep apnea exhibit similar symptoms of ADHD and are often misdiagnosed as such.

How is Pediatric Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

If you believe that your child is suffering from pediatric sleep apnea, make notes of all of their symptoms and talk with your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor will likely then refer you to a sleep specialist to make an assessment and receive an official diagnosis. At this appointment, a sleep specialist will conduct an examination and evaluation. In addition, a sleep study may be conducted in order to properly diagnose and confirm sleep apnea. After receiving the formal diagnosis of pediatric sleep apnea, treatment can begin with a sleep apnea specialist, such as Gorman Health and Wellness.

According to The Nemours Foundation, during a sleep study, doctors check:

  • Eye movements
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Brain waves
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Carbon dioxide levels
  • Snoring and other noises
  • Body movements and sleep positions

In addition to receiving a formal diagnosis, you may want to take steps in your own home to reduce your child’s risk of sleep apnea. If your child has one of the significant risk factors — asthma, allergies, large tonsils, or obesity — it is essential to address that immediately. Sleep apnea can significantly improve or treat itself by gaining control of asthma or allergies, treating the large tonsils, and making lifestyle changes to combat obesity.

Treatment for Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Mild cases of pediatric sleep apnea can be outgrown. However, more severe cases require treatment. When sleep apnea is addressed with the proper treatment, risks associated with the condition are significantly reduced.

After the patient has received a sleep apnea diagnosis, you and your child can schedule a consultation at our clinic with sleep apnea specialist Dr. Gorman. He will talk with them about their symptoms, review their medical history, and may perform a scan utilizing state-of-the-art dental technology to evaluate possible obstructions. Once he is familiar with the details of their condition, Dr. Gorman will create a personalized treatment plan with the goal of improving their nighttime breathing. This often involves the use of a custom-fitted dental appliance the patient will wear while sleeping.

If the patient’s sleep apnea is caused by the tongue relaxing in the throat, a tongue-retaining device may be the ideal treatment for maintaining an open airway. Should an abnormal jaw position be causing breathing difficulties, Dr. Gorman may recommend a particular device to correct this alignment, such as a mouthpiece or a device strapped around the head. Oral appliances used to address sleep apnea are removable and typically resemble athletic mouth guards. In more severe cases, surgery may be required for treatment.

Untreated Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Ignoring your child’s sleep apnea symptoms and hoping it will go away on its own can lead to many long-lasting negative impacts outside of poor sleep quality. Some of the adverse effects of untreated pediatric sleep apnea, according to the National Library of Medicine, include:

  • Failure to thrive. According to Stanford University, Failure to thrive is slow physical development in a baby or child. It’s caused by a baby or child not having enough nutrition. A child with FTT is at risk for problems such as short height, behavior problems, and developmental delays.
  • Enuresis. Enuresis is the medical term for involuntary urination by children at night.
  • ADHD misdiagnosis. As mentioned, pediatric sleep apnea can often lead to a misdiagnosis of ADHD. As a result, your child may take unnecessary medications or undergo treatments that can be avoided by treating their sleep apnea.
  • Poor academic performance. Poor sleep quality can cause hyperactivity, poor focus, and daytime sleepiness which all add up to poor academic performance. This can lead to life-changing impacts that can change the course of their academic career.
  • Cardiopulmonary disease. People who suffer from sleep apnea are at a greater risk of developing issues with their heart. In fact, obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of heart failure by 140%, the risk of stroke by 60%, and the risk of coronary heart disease by 30%, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

Pediatric Sleep Apnea Treatment with Gorman Health and Wellness

Your child does not have to suffer from pediatric sleep apnea and its negative consequences. Once you have received your child’s formal diagnosis of sleep apnea, give us a call. Our non-invasive, clinically-approved treatment for pediatric sleep apnea can help change your child’s life.

Dr. Gorman is a part of the breathing wellness movement, aiming to increase awareness and improve treatment for sleep-related airway conditions like sleep apnea. He has partnered with organizations focused on collaborating with dentists to apply the sciences of Craniofacial Epigenetics (the study of cranial modifications caused by gene expression as opposed to genetic code alteration) and Pneumopedics® (the practical application of oral appliance therapy and non-surgical airway remodeling) in the management of sleep apnea.

Together, applying these sciences allows for underlying causes of airway obstruction to be treated in 98% of cases, resulting in a high success rate among sleep apnea patients. For every sleep apnea case at our practice, Dr. Gorman will gather patient data and determine the patient’s specific needs based on home sleep test results, dental impressions, CT scans, and images. Our state-of-the-art technology, paired with Dr. Gorman’s experience with sleep disorders, allows him to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual’s particular case, yielding improved daytime and nighttime breathing for the patient.

“I have been helping people suffering from Sleep Apnea with a non-invasive, clinically approved treatment method. This method has allowed my patients to sleep with far fewer events per hour, allowing them to get rid of their CPAP and BiPAP machines. Imagine not having to use one of those machines, getting back a much greater quality of life along with the benefits of being able to breathe better.” – Dr. Gorman.

For more information on Dr. Gorman to improve your child’s sleep apnea and quality of life, contact us today.

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