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Sleep apnea is characterized by snoring, long periods of absent breathing, and chronic mouth breathing among other things. Although common in adults, sleep apnea can be present in children. Central sleep apnea is when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. More common than central sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, a form of sleep apnea defined by an upper airway obstruction that prevents proper air flow.

Roughly 3-12 percent of children snore, and about one to ten percent of children suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. While there is potential that some children will grow out of their sleep apnea, evidence is accumulating that suggests many children have an untreated pediatric sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. Studies have indicated that as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and that much of their learning difficulty and behavior problems can be the consequence of chronic fragmented sleep.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

  • Large tonsils or adenoids: this is the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Large tonsils or adenoids can block the airways causing obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Obesity: children who are overweight are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Problems with muscle tone: children with muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea because the muscles in their throat relax and block the airway.
  • Genetic syndromes: children with genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome are much more likely to be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Facial abnormalities: facial abnormalities can impede the normal flow of air in the upper airway.
  • Problems with breathing control: problems in the brain can impact breathing.
  • Family history: sleep apnea can run in families. If a family member has sleep apnea, other family members could be at higher risk.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Snoring
  • Mouth breathing
  • Breathing cessation during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Poor attention span
  • Behavioral issues
  • Bedwetting
  • Poor performance at school

Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

A sleep study or polysomnography (PSG) is an objective test for sleep-disordered breathing. Wires are attached to the head and body to monitor brain waves, muscle tension, eye movement, breathing, and the level of oxygen in the blood during sleep. The test is not painful and is performed in a sleep laboratory or hospital. Sleep tests can occasionally produce inaccurate results, especially in children.

An ENT specialist will consider family and medical history, risk factors, and symptoms to diagnose sleep apnea. The specialist can also perform a physical exam to inspect your jaw size and structure, tonsils, tongue, lungs, and other areas for signs of complications related to sleep apnea.

Treatment Options

Treatment options will vary depending on the dominant factors contributing to sleep apnea. Children who have enlarged tonsils or adenoids that are obstructing the airway can have surgery performed to remove the tonsils or adenoids. Other treatments options include weight loss, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), or other surgical procedures.

If you or a family member exhibits any signs or symptoms of sleep apnea, seek further evaluation. The diagnosis and management of sleep apnea are most appropriate for an ENT specialist. Dr. Carreño is an ENT specialist who serves the South Florida area. Dr. Carreño will take the time to walk you through a comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment options. If you are already diagnosed with sleep apnea, Dr. Carreño can assist you in deciding what treatment options best fit your individual needs. Reach out to his team today!