Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What is Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when sleep is disrupted because of a full or partial airway blockage. It can be caused by obesity since excess fat around the neck can cause the throat to narrow.

OSA is also commonly caused by oversized adenoids and tonsils. More rarely it is a result of a physical abnormality or a neuromuscular condition. No matter the cause, it can have numerous physical, mental and social repercussions.

What are the Symptoms of Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

The symptoms of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea may include:

  • Recurrent loud snoring, snorting and gasping during sleep
  • Flaying around in bed
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Bedwetting
  • Poor academic performance
  • Moodiness
  • Behavioral problems

Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in children is caused when there is a blockage of the upper airways. When we sleep, the muscles surrounding the nose and throat become relaxed, which can in some cases collapse the airway. This is why the blockage occurs only during sleep and not during the day when awake.

There are lots of different reasons for a blockage in the airway. For many children, it is enlarged tonsils or adenoids which are to blame. Adenoids are tissues found towards the back of the nasal cavity which help to fight off infections. If these or the tonsils are too big for airway, they can cause sleep apnea.

In other instances of pediatric OSA, the airway itself is unusually narrow, or the tongue is unusually large. It’s also possible for defects in the structure of the throat, jaw or mouth to block the upper airway.

Being overweight is another common cause of sleep apnea. Those who carry excess weight often have extra tissues in the back of the throat which, during sleep, can block the airway.

Finally, pediatric OSA can occur in children with a family history of sleep apnea. This suggests that they have inherited physical traits from their parents which result in a narrow or blocked airway.

How is Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?

The treatment of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea depends on the cause of the condition. The child should have a medical examination, and a sleep study may be necessary. Treatment may include:

  • Adenoid and tonsil removal
  • Weight loss
  • CPAP use

When left untreated POS can result in:

  • Increased nighttime urine output and bedwetting problems
  • Social problems with siblings, friends and other sleepover partners
  • Behavioral problems because of a lack of restful sleep
  • OSA may increase the risk of ADD (attention deficit disorder)
  • Reduction of growth hormones that result in developmental delays
  • Obesity caused by a lack of exercise and insulin resistance
  • Increased chance of developing heart problems, high blood pressure or a lung condition

Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea Prevention

Pediatric OSA can be prevented by tackling the root cause of the airway blockage. For example, if enlarged tonsils or adenoids are to blame, they might be surgically removed in order to open up the airways and allow for normal breathing.

Children who appear to suffer from OSA due to being overweight or obese should strive to lose weight to prevent sleep apnea. It can be helpful to consult a nutritionist for advice on adjusting the child’s diet to help them safely lose weight.

In instances of sleep apnea, where the cause is a physical characteristic which cannot be avoided, prevention may not be possible. In these instances, doctors may recommend using continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) to keep the airways open during sleep.

Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017
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