When talking about sleep apnea, you commonly hear about it affecting adults. But did you know that sleep apnea also impacts children? In fact, there are estimates that one to four percent of children experience sleep apnea, and they are often between 2 and 8 years old. Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea happens when your child’s breathing is partially or completely blocked while they sleep because of problems with their upper airway. It could be the airway is narrow or is blocked.
Pediatric Sleep Apnea vs. Adult Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea manifests differently in children than in adults. While children can grow out of their sleep apnea as they age, untreated pediatric sleep disorders (like sleep apnea) can take a toll on their health and behavior. Adults will primarily find themselves battling daytime sleepiness while children tend to exhibit behavioral issues. Adults often have sleep apnea because of obesity, and children tend to have it because of problems with enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
Signs of Sleep Apnea in Children
Have you noticed that your child snores loudly or breathes through the mouth as they sleep? Do they have long pauses in breathing? Do they toss and turn? What about night sweats? These signs all indicate your child has a problem with sleep apnea. Besides snoring, the symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea are similar. Other common signs of sleep apnea to look for include:
- Slowed growth
- Chronic daytime fatigue
- Hormonal and metabolic problems
- Failure to thrive
- Coughing or choking while asleep
- Sleep terrors
For children experiencing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), about 25% of them have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. It means their learning difficulties and behavior problems result from having ongoing interrupted sleep. If their sleep apnea goes untreated long enough, it can affect their growth, cognitive development, and behavior. That’s when you might see them struggle to learn in school due to a poor attention span.
Growth can slow down while their energy goes to working harder to breathe, so their body can get the oxygen it needs. They may have a hard time waking up in the morning, may nod off during the day and have a poor academic performance overall.
It’s not just their schoolwork that suffers but their ability to thrive socially, which adversely affects their developing self-esteem. And severe sleep apnea in children that isn’t treated can lead to high blood pressure, making them susceptible to stroke, heart attack, and childhood obesity.
Toddlers With Sleep Apnea
Even younger children can have sleep apnea. You’ll notice they are restless while sleeping, they sweat heavily, and may cough or sound like they are choking. When they are awake, you may notice they are cranky and irritable and often frustrated. They may fall asleep randomly throughout the day or have problems with their tonsils or adenoids. They may also develop more slowly in height and weight.
Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important for your child as it is for an adult as they have the hard work of learning and growing to do! If your child displays some of the symptoms outlined above, we encourage you to give our team a call to learn more. It is possible your child may need help treating sleep apnea, and they deserve to get the sleep they need!