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What are the symptoms of sleep apnea in kids?

Sleep apnea can affect children too. © Shutterstock

Sleep apnea can hurt school performance. Teachers and others may think a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning problems

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : September 6, 2018 4:38 PM IST

Most people think that only the old and the ageing can suffer from sleep troubles or suffer from a condition like sleep apnea but in reality, even kids and teens can suffer from sleep problems. Sleep apnea in kids is uncommon but it still exists. This condition is characterised with brief pauses in breathing during sleep. In sleep apnea, breathing stops often or for longer periods. When someone has sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the body may fall and sleep can be disrupted. It is usually caused by something obstructing, or blocking, the upper airway. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA is a serious condition that can make kids miss out on a healthy, restful sleep and if not treated it can lead to learning, behaviour, growth, and heart problems. In very rare cases, it can even be life-threatening for a child.

What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

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When we sleep, our muscles relax. This includes the muscles in the back of the throat that help keep the airway open. In obstructive sleep apnea, these muscles can relax too much and collapse the airway, making it hard to breathe. This is especially true if someone has enlarged tonsils or adenoids (germ-fighting tissues at the back of the nasal cavity), which can block the airway during sleep. In fact, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common cause of OSA in kids.

Some risk factors for the development of OSA in children include:

  • a family history of obstructive sleep apnea
  • being overweight
  • medical conditions such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy
  • defects in the structures of the mouth, jaw, or throat that can narrow the airway
  • a large neck (17 inches or more in circumference for men; 16 inches for women)
  • a large tongue, which can fall back and block the airway during sleep

Some common signs of OSA in kids include:

  • snoring, often associated with pauses, snorts, or gasps
  • heavy breathing while sleeping
  • very restless sleep and sleeping in unusual positions
  • bedwetting
  • daytime sleepiness or behavioural problems
  • having a hard time waking in the morning
  • fatigued throughout the day
  • attention deficit and other behaviour problems. As a result, sleep apnea can hurt school performance. Teachers and others may think a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning problems.

This why it is important for parents to detect this problem early and help their child get the right kind of help so they can sleep well and grow up to become healthy individuals.

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