What are “Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disordered Breathing?”
Sleep apnea or “Sleep disordered breathing” is a term commonly used to describe various breathing problems during sleep, especially in the pediatric population. Snoring is a milder type of sleep disordered breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea is a severe form of sleep disordered breathing involving frequent episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway during sleep.
How do I know if my child has obstructive sleep apnea?
Symptoms in pediatric patients may include:
- Loud snoring that is present most nights. You may or may not notice distinct pauses in your child’s breathing during sleep, which are often associated with gasping or snorting noises.
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Irritability and/or hyperactivity
- Problems paying attention or difficulty concentrating
How is sleep disordered breathing diagnosed?
A complete history and physical exam by an ENT physician can make the diagnosis of sleep disordered breathing, as well as determine the likely cause. In children, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids are the most common cause of sleep disordered breathing, though other areas of obstruction in the throat can occur. Obesity certainly can contribute to sleep disordered breathing as well.
In many children with a straight-forward history and clear exam findings, a sleep study is not necessary to diagnose sleep disordered breathing. An overnight sleep study may be recommended to diagnose sleep apnea in some children, especially very young children, those with morbid obesity, craniofacial abnormalities or neurological disorders, or those with a somewhat unclear history or physical exam that is inconsistent with symptoms.
When and how is sleep disordered breathing treated?
Untreated sleep apnea can have a number of negative effects on a child’s health and well-being. It can affect behavior and learning, even leading to attention deficit disorders in some children. Growth and development can be slowed. Children with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to develop obesity as well as insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to high blood pressure as well as other heart and lung disorders, which can become life-shortening problems as children transition to adulthood.
Although not as severe as sleep apnea, even regular snoring associated with sleep disruption in children can cause many of the same problems as sleep apnea.
Treatment is recommended for all forms of sleep apnea in children, and for milder forms of sleep disordered breathing when symptoms are significant.
Generally, tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy is the treatment of choice for sleep disordered breathing in children. The physicians at Peak ENT can help determine the most appropriate treatment for your child.