Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Children: Parents Beware!

mouth breathing child

You may well have had a restful night but did your child, who sleeps in another room? Sleep apnea affects as many as 1-5% of children. Would you be able to tell if your?child were showing any sleep apnea symptoms?

Apneas occur due to pauses in breathing. In rare cases it can even be fatal. The child may?wake up briefly during the event and then go back to sleep, but this constant sleep disturbance can have an adverse effect on his/her physical mental and emotional health. Sleep disordered breathing or SDB is a possible symptom of sleep apnea.

Why should you be worried about sleep apnea anyway? Lack of sleep?may cause your child may be constantly drowsy, wanting to sleep, inactive and unable to concentrate on even the simplest of tasks. In school this can lead to even more problems ? homework not done, doing badly in class, disruptive behavior and more. And you may (erroneously)?put this down to laziness or ineptitude!

Sleep Apnea Can Be Dangerous

Scientific studies show different problems occurring in kids due to sleep apnea. In young babies sleep apnea can slow down the growth rate. One study concluded that obstructive sleep apnea in children could impair IQ and even have a permanently adverse effect on the child?s cognition function if untreated. Another study deduced that sleep apnea in children was associated with possible abnormalities of cardiovascular heath (including hypertension), behavior and growth among other problems.? These problems can have long term effects on the intellectual and physical growth of the child.

Sleep apnea may be responsible for a myriad of problems in your child. And if your child is exhibiting any behavioral, growth or health symptoms, it should be a wake-up call for you that should not be ignored.

Symptoms To Watch Out For…

Sleep apnea in children presents many symptoms, some of them are:

  • baby yawningSnoring that occurs due to breathing problems while asleep. As the child respires, the muscles at the back of the throat lose their tone and sag, thus causing vibration in the upper airway.
  • Scary choking sounds when your child wakes up gasping for breath. This can be related to the collapse of the airway or another acute condition (eg. allergies, etc) that’s interrupting normal respiration. It’s important to observe frequency in this case and to consult with a physician if there’s doubt as to the cause.
  • Actual episodes where the child stops breathing and starts again with a loud snort.?This may occur because the airway has lost its integrity to the point where it is completely obstructed by the tissues of the soft palate and tongue. When this occurs, the oxygen level in the child’s bloodstream falls, causing?the brain to forcefully arouse them from sleep.
  • Sleeping with an open mouth because he or she cannot breathe comfortably from the nose. Many other factors could contribute to this such as a deviated septum, or some other physiological concern. Either way, mouth breathing is not not a good sign?since oxygen uptake is not as efficient. This can cause frequent arousals at night as well due to oxygen stress.
  • Bed wetting because sleep disordered breathing results in increased urine production (enuresis). This may be related to the brief rush of adrenaline caused by apnea episodes. Children are more prone to this since they may not have the same level of bladder control as adults.
  • Odd sleeping positions as the child tries to find a comfortable position to breathe over the course of the night.
  • Excessive daytime fatigue due to inadequate rest. Depending on severity you may also notice persistent lethargy, irritability and/or behavioural issues.

If some of these present regularly, you need to go a pediatrician who is aware of sleep apnea or to a sleep specialist. Be warned that these symptoms may be linked with other problems later down the road, such as:

  • Childhood obesity
  • Failure to thrive (particularly in young babies)
  • Chronic?tiredness
  • Dozing at odd hours
  • Night sweats (the effort to breathe can actually raise your child?s metabolic rate, causing perspiration)
  • Aggressive behavior or other behavioral problems
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Headaches (especially in the morning)

What Can Be Done IF Your Child Suffers From Sleep Apnea?

If you are worried about the problems associated with sleep apnea, you should take comfort in the fact that it is a treatable condition. Depending on the cause of the sleep apnea, a medical professional may advise different treatment options such as:

  • Weight loss ? if your child is obese, the excess weight contributes significantly to sleep apnea. Loss of weight is the first step to treating this problem.
  • Treating nasal allergies ? frequently?blocked nasal passages can contribute to the development of?sleep apnea. When the nasal tissues swell up, breathing is affected and this can also aggravate existing sleep apnea. If nasal allergies are the cause of a blocked nose, then nasal sprays or medicines may help.
  • Removal of tonsils/adenoids (adenotonsillectomy) ? swollen glands can also cause or exacerbate sleep apnea. Your medical practitioner may advise surgical removal of these glands and this can also go a long way in solving the problem. If this is the cause of the sleep apnea, the problem should be resolved by surgery.
  • Treatment of cranio-facial abnormalities ? occasionally there is a physical cause for sleep apnea. This can be a receding chin, a cleft palate, a wide tongue base, or a narrow jaw (since the tongue doesn’t fit properly it may fall back into the airway far more easily).??these may be surgically treated if your doctor and tests show that these play a role in sleep apnea.
  • Use of devices to help with sleep apnea ? use of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or other devices can help normalize breathing. These work by forcing air through the nose and throat, preventing sleep apnea since the child is breathing continuously.

The Importance of Diagnosis

It is best to get a medical diagnosis of confirmed sleep apnea so that the doctor can take the right steps to provide a solution. Let?s not forget that obesity, ADHD and nasal allergies can exist without sleep apnea as well. Your child may snore and not suffer from sleep apnea as well and vice versa.

It is possible that if you go to a pediatrician or a family doctor, he or she may advise you to see a specialist like a pulmonologist (a chest or lung specialist), an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), a sleep expert, or a sleep apnea expert for further check-ups.

One test that is often used for diagnosis is a polysomnogram or sleep study that is best done in a lab. It monitors the sleep patterns, breathing and oxygen levels to give a reading as to whether sleep apnea exists or not.

There is no one treatment that is right for a child and there are no drugs that can treat or mitigate sleep apnea. Apart from working with your physician and your child to resolve the cause of sleep apnea in your child, you should inculcate good sleeping habits in your child, have a regular bedtime and avoid over-stimulation via diet or caffeine or even screen time a few hours before bed time.


I do hope that you found the above informative and that, if you have kids, you will begin to observe them carefully so as to ensure they’re getting the rest they deserve. If you have any questions or would like to share your story, please feel free to do so in the comments area below!

–Josh

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *