Childhood Sleep Apnea – How can my Child Overcome It?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) affects more than 18 million adults and about 2-3% of children of all ages as well as newborns. This sleep-related disorder causes difficulties during breathing while asleep. It often caused because the muscles in your upper airway relax while you sleep, making it floppy, which tends to make it susceptible to blockage due to the adenoids and tonsils. It is known to run in families, and children who have larger adenoids and tonsils.

OSA in babies and toddlers is particularly concerning for parents as such children tend to feel very tired and cranky due to disturbed sleeping patterns and may also face learning, behavioral and health problems in the future. This happens because OSA causes the child’s breathing to temporarily pause while asleep for a little over two breath cycles. This can happen up to 70 times an hour and can cause the oxygen levels in the blood to plummet which makes the body responds as if it were being choked.

What Symptoms Should I Watch-Out For?

In order to rightly gauge whether your child is suffering from sleep apnea you must familiarize yourself with its signs and symptoms. A child suffering with OSA will typically display the following symptoms:

  • loud snoring coupled with long pauses and difficulty in breathing while asleep
  • choking, gasping or snorting mid-sleep
  • restlessness and profuse sweating
  • mouth breathing rather than regular breathing
  • sleeping in unusual positions due to breathing discomfort
  • inability to wake up on time
  • constant complaints of suffering from headaches and a blocked nose
  • difficulty in paying attention in class and retention of the subject matter
  • reduced appetite and problems with swallowing and chewing

Which Medical Professional Should I Approach?

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, and are unsure about what to do next, you must consult your pediatrician, or a dentist who practices pediatric dentistry to rightly diagnose the problem. While consulting the dentist might seem like an odd suggestion, what might be surprising to know is that family dentists are often the first in line when it comes to detecting such problems due to the frequency of interaction and the proximity to the impacted area. A consultation is imperative since OSA is also known to induce snoring among children; it can become quite confusing for parents as it is natural for children to snore too. In fact, studies conducted on this subject have reflected that about 3-12% of children snore, while OSA affects about 1-10% of them.  So, your pediatrician or family dentist should be able to help you tell the difference and refer you to an experienced sleep specialist accordingly.

How is Sleep Apnea Medically Diagnosed?

The test conducted to assess whether a child is suffering from sleep apnea, is called a polysomnogram. This sleep study involves monitoring of brain waves, eye movement, breathing and oxygen levels in the blood, as well as gasping and snoring while the child is sleeping. This test simply requires you to stay overnight at the sleep clinic along with your child so the doctor can record and analyze the brain, eye and muscle activity. The test is painless and only requires a number of wires to be stuck to the surface of the skin to measure breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels during the sleep study.

What Are the Treatment Options?

If your child is diagnosed with OSA, there is no need to worry or panic as they are a number of treatment options available, and you can pick one that is best suited to your child depending on the intensity of the situation. Listed below are the most common treatment methods and techniques

  1. Surgery

Children who possess normal craniofacial features and uncomplicated medical status can get their tonsils and andenoids surgically removed. Otherwise known as an adenotonsillectomy, this procedure is widely accepted as the standard treatment for childhood OSA.

  1. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

In CPAP therapy, patients are required to wear a mask while they are sleeping. This mask is attached to a portable unit via tube. The machine then provides positive airway pressure to relive the upper airway obstruction by opening the throat muscles as well as the air passage allowing regular breathing.

  1. Diet and Medication

Medication is given in cases of residual OSA after surgery which may include antibiotic medications or topical intranasal application of corticosteroids and/or other anti-inflammatory medication. Sometimes children even suffer from OSA due to obesity which requires them to follow a weight loss and diet program to correct the issue.

  1. Oral Appliance Therapy

Oral appliances have recently emerged as a popular alternative therapy to surgery and patients who fail to comply with CPAP treatment. Oral Appliance therapy requires the supervision of a dentist as it includes the use of dental devices or sleep apnea mouthpieces. This mouthpiece moves the bottom jaw and tongue forward in order to keep the upper airway of the mouth open and allows the patient to breath normally.

As you can see, dentists play a key role in the diagnostic and treatment process because they have the right vantage point and can detect such problems ahead of time and thereby, enormously contributing to the overall well-being of a child suffering from OSA. Therefore, involving your family dentist in your child’s healthcare program can prove to be highly beneficial. So, be sure to include dental visits in your child’s regular medical check-up schedule to ensure that your child receives appropriate medical care in due time, thus saving them from any long-term damage caused due to OSA.

Author Bio:

A dental marketer at Michael G. Long D. D. S. and a believer in in holistic health, Grace lives by the rule that health and happiness go hand in hand. She writes on various dental topics focusing on healthy living and holistic health. When she’s not working or blogging, she enjoys spending her time with her family and volunteering at the local youth centers where she educates children about the importance of health and fitness.

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