Pediatric sleep apnea

Definition

With pediatric sleep apnea, a child's breathing pauses during sleep because the airway has become narrowed or partly blocked.

Causes

During sleep, all of the muscles in the body become more relaxed. This includes the muscles that help keep the throat open so air can flow into the lungs.

Normally, the throat remains open enough during sleep to let air pass by. However, some children have a narrow throat. This is often because of large tonsils or adenoids, which partially block the airflow. When the muscles in their upper throat relax during sleep, the tissues close in and block the airway. This stop in breathing is called apnea.

Other factors that also may increase the risk of sleep apnea in children include:

Symptoms

Loud snoring is a telltale symptom of sleep apnea. Snoring is caused by air squeezing through the narrowed or blocked airway. However, not every child who snores has sleep apnea.

Children with sleep apnea also have the following symptoms at night:

During the daytime, children with sleep apnea may:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will take your child's medical history and do a physical exam.

Your child may be given a sleep study to confirm sleep apnea.

Treatment

Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids often cures the condition in children.

If needed, surgery also may be used to:

Sometimes, surgery is not recommended or does not help. In that case, your child my use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.

It can take some time to get used to sleeping using CPAP therapy. Good follow-up and support from a sleep center can help your child overcome any problems using CPAP.

Other treatments may include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

In most cases, treatment completely relieves symptoms and problems from sleep apnea.

Possible Complications

Untreated pediatric sleep apnea may lead to:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call a provider if:


Review Date: 9/5/2017
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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