Every now and again, nearly all children will snore when they sleep. The noise that occurs represents a blockage of some sort preventing air from passing easily through the nose or mouth during sleep. While some parents may find it endearing when it happens, snoring can be a sign that a more serious issue is taking place. Snoring in children could mean a respiratory infection, a stuffy nose caused by an allergy or a cold, or it could be caused by child sleep apnea. Each of these medical issues ranges in severity, but when children are otherwise healthy, persistent snoring means a visit to the doctor may be in order.
Among children ages one to nine, between eleven and twelve percent are affected by ongoing snoring. It is a common condition throughout all countries and populations and in most cases, the disrupted breathing is not a cause for serious concern. However, if snoring is happening with a child more than three times per week, it is important for parents to understand what may be taking place with their health so that the proper treatment can be started for more severe conditions like sleep apnea. Here’s what parents should know.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Across all ages, sleep apnea affects more than 20 million people worldwide. The condition is defined as the occurrence of stopping breathing during sleep for a short period of time. For some patients, breathing stops a few times per night, but for others, it could take place hundreds of times. When breathing is interrupted, a person typically wakes momentarily thanks to signals sent to the brain. When sleep apnea goes untreated, sleep patterns are disrupted, and other medical issues may develop or become more serious.
There are three main categories of sleep apnea in children: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea, also known as OSA, is the most common type, but it often remains undiagnosed in children. For those who have obstructive sleep apnea, a partial or complete blockage of the airways occurs during sleep. The child’s throat muscles may relax to the point where the tongue or fatty tissues of the throat are allowed to fall back into the airway, blocking airflow. When this takes place, air is restricted enough to cause the child to wake up and begin breathing again. Some may gasp for air after these episodes or make sounds that are reminiscent of choking or snorting. Once there is enough air to get past the blockage, sleep can continue; however, air may be blocked again during the night.
Central sleep apnea is less common than OSA, and it takes place when the brain fails to signal the muscles responsible for breathing normally. This condition is a misfire of communication rather than a relaxation of the muscles. With central sleep apnea, children may stop breathing or experience irregular breathing throughout a night’s sleep, and shortness of breath is common upon waking up. Snoring is less prevalent with children who have central sleep apnea, but it is still a sign something may be wrong. Mixed sleep apnea is simply a combination of OSA and central sleep apnea.
What to Look For
Not all children who snore necessarily have any one type or combination of types of sleep apnea. However, parents should be on the lookout for the following symptoms to determine if a visit to the doctor’s office is a smart next step:
Daytime drowsiness is a sign of disrupted sleep and can be an indicator that sleep apnea is taking place
Difficulty waking a child up in the morning may also mean sleep during the night was not as restful as it should be due to obstructed breathing
Some learning, behavioural, or social problems may be an indicator that children are not getting enough healthy sleep throughout the night, which could be caused by sleep apnea
Snoring more than three times per week
Snorting, choking, or gasping after waking up in the middle of the night or in the morning
Sweating during sleep
Moving frequently during sleep or positioning themselves abnormally with their head tipped backward
Sleep apnea of any sort can include any one or more of these common concerns with children. The sooner sleep apnea is identified, the sooner treatment can begin.
Because sleep apnea is more common among aging adults than it is children, it often goes undiagnosed and ultimately untreated for longer than necessary. A specialist from a negligence firm that works with ear, nose, and throat cases, advises that parents always seek out a second or third opinion from other doctors and specialists if they believe sleep apnea may be an underlying cause of snoring. This is especially important when considering the treatment option for sleep apnea in children, including invasive surgery. There are several minimally invasive procedures along with at-home remedies that can and should be recommended prior to undergoing a serious procedure. In some cases, surgeries do not prevent ongoing issues with sleep apnea, leaving children with disrupted sleep and the negative effects that come with for extended periods of time.
While sleep apnea is all that common among children between the ages of one and nine, it is important for parents to recognise that it can become an issue that requires medical intervention. If a child is snoring often or experiencing any of the other related symptoms listed here, take the time to schedule an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist as soon as possible. With a timely diagnosis and the right treatment, children with sleep apnea can get back to resting well throughout the night.