How to Tell If My Child Has Sleep Apnea

How to Tell If My Child Has Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleeping apnea (OSA) is a medical condition where children have difficulties in breathing while asleep. Traditionally, muscles of both children and adults relax while asleep. Tonsils and adenoids in sleeping children partially or totally block the muscles of the upper airway. 

More than 20% of children snore while asleep, but OSA is a rare condition which only affects less than three per cent of children. OSA disrupts a child’s sleep and makes them feel tired during the day. This may further disrupt their learning in school. 

OSA disrupts sleep by reducing the levels of oxygen in the patient’s body. On the other hand, lack of enough sleep causes other medical conditions. 

So what causes OSA?

Generally, when we fall deep asleep, our muscles relax. The muscles of the throat which are responsible for keeping the airway open also relax. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles relax too much resulting in the collapse of the airway. This makes it difficult for the patient to breathe. Mayo Clinic states that OSA can result from:

• Obesity

• Inheritance from families

• Problems of the jaw, mouth, or throat that nears the airway

• A large tongue. The tongue falls back and blocks the airway when one is asleep

• suffering from cerebral palsy and Down syndrome

• A large neck 

Symptoms of obstructive sleeping apnea

Breathing helps the human body to take in oxygen. When it stops, the body takes in less air. In response, the brain wakes up to open the airway. This process happens quickly that one can hardly notice it. In OSA, the process repeatedly occurs all night. This is the reason behind a patient complaining of disrupted sleep.

The following are symptoms of OSA:

• Disturbed sleep and sleeping in weird positions

• Snoring which occurs in pauses, gasps or snorts

• Bedwetting

• Behavioral problems and falling asleep during the day 

OSA results in restless sleep, which makes it difficult for the patient to wake up on time in the morning. Due to disrupted sleep, the patient is less attentive and falls asleep during the day

Diagnosis of OSA 

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you can conduct a sleep study/diagnosis. The study is geared towards examining why the child suffers from restless sleep and why they are less attentive during the day. This will help the doctor determine which sleeping disorder the child is suffering from. 

The study involves placing sensors at various spots on the child’s body. The sensors are connected to a medical computer to provide information while the patient sleeps. Despite the patient having to spend a night in the hospital, sleep studies have no safety concern. 

During the study, a sleep specialist will monitor:

• Heart rate 

• Eye movements

• Breathing patterns

• Sleep positions and body movements

• Snoring and other noises

• Brain waves 

• Level of oxygen in the blood

Treatment of Obstructive Sleeping Disorder 

When enlarged adenoids or tonsils cause OSA, the doctor will refer the patient to an ENT specialist. The ear, nose and throat specialist may decide to conduct an operation called adenotonsillectomy to get rid of the adenoids or the tonsils. 

If the problem does not arise from enlarged tonsils and adenoids, the doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or the use of a CPAP machine from CPAP Direct. In this therapy, the patient is provided with a mask that covers the nose and mouth during sleep. The mask is wired to a machine that pumps air into the mask to open the blocked airways. 

When the problem occurs due to obesity, the doctor will refer the patient to a dietician. The dietician will discuss diet changes, exercise and other healthy weight loss methods with the patient. 

OSA can affect your child’s physical, mental and educational life. The child may have abnormal behavior changes and be less attentive. If you notice the mentioned symptoms, consult your doctor for early diagnosis.

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