Obstructive sleep apnea is when a child briefly stops breathing while sleeping. It happens because of a blockage in the upper airway. This is the passages through the nose and mouth to the windpipe and lungs. The pause in breathing may occur many times in a night, disrupting the child’s sleep. He or she may wake up gasping for air.
The condition is most commonly found in children ages 3 to 6.
The muscles in the head and neck help keep the upper airway open. When a child falls asleep, these muscles tend to relax. That allows tissues to fold closer together. If the airway is partially closed while awake, falling asleep may cause the passage to close completely.
In children, the most common cause for such a blockage is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These glands are located at the back and to the sides of the throat. They may grow too large. Or an infection may cause them to swell. They may then briefly block the airway during sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea may also be caused by:
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms, health history, and sleep patterns. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have a sleep study.
A sleep study is the best way to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. But the test may be hard to do with younger children or those who don’t want to cooperate. For the study, your child may need to sleep in a special lab. While sleeping, he or she will be connected to monitors that check:
Your child’s healthcare provider may refer your child to a sleep expert for more evaluation.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
The treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is based on the cause. It may include:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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