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How Open Is Your Child’s Airway? Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Children

By Larry Pribyl, D.D.S.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms in ChildrenSome children may have a problem with a smaller than normal airway which may contribute to snoring or sleep apnea. Roughly 1-5 percent of children have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea symptoms are a little different in children than in adults. A child may not always have excessive daytime sleepiness but instead demonstrates abnormal daytime behavior and fatigue in their work and relationships in school. Sleep apnea may also affect the child’s ability to learn in school. They may act out and exhibit disruptive behavior in the classroom. Some ADHD may be present. They may wet the bed, have restless sleep, or breathe through their mouths. Other symptoms include gasping, snorting or waking often throughout the night.

Regular Snoring
Should Be Evaluated
A child with OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) may or may not actually make snoring sounds. Children with Down syndrome and certain health conditions like hypertension or obesity can also cause or exacerbate sleep apnea. Most children’s sleep apnea symptoms do not develop suddenly but gradually over time before it is recognized. Any child can have OSA but don’t assume it’s nothing to worry about. It doesn’t necessarily mean your child needs a sleep study, but a child who regularly snores needs to be evaluated by a health care professional who understands sleep disorders in children.

Most Common Cause
of Sleep Apnea
The most common cause for sleep apnea in children is enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. However, a major contributor to OSA issues in many children is an underdeveloped upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible). This in turn does not allow the tongue to assume a normal posture. The tongue falls back and blocks the child’s airway during sleep. The most important thing is early diagnosis to prevent problems in their physical and mental growth. About 80% of the time, removal of tonsils and adenoids will reduce if not eliminate the obstructive apnea. For those who do not get good results with tonsil and adenoid removal, a thorough orthodontic evaluation is recommended with a primary focus being the upper airway.

What is Central Sleep Apnea?
Central sleep apnea is a term used for babies—especially those born prematurely. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to signal the body to breathe. This is often due to a baby’s immature central nervous system. The risk of sleep apnea increases the more premature a baby is born. Premature babies with sleep apnea are monitored closely in the hospital and the condition usually resolves itself when the babies reach full-term age.

Airway Evaluation
If you feel your child needs to be examined for possible sleep apnea, call our office at 816-795-1000. We will do a complimentary airway evaluation and let you know the status of your child’s airway.

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