Treating Sleep Apnea in Children: Common Causes, Warning Signs and Solutions

Last updated: September 14th, 2023

Can Children Have Sleep Apnea?

Snoring and sleep apnea can lead to a variety of difficult to manage side effects in children when not properly treated. From decreased immune system performance to growth delays and behavioral issues, snoring can be a major health risk. The key to successfully managing snoring and sleep apnea is understanding the underlying causes and getting educated on what parents can do to help.

Common Reasons Why Children Snore

Children snore for a variety of reasons. Primarily, snoring can be caused by congestion from colds or allergies. Snoring can also be an indicator of a more serious condition like sleep apnea. Regardless of the cause, snoring should always be addressed. The first step should be alerting and visiting your doctor or pediatrician.

Enlarged Tonsils & Adenoids

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are one of the most common reasons infants and children snore. Tonsils are located in the back of your mouth, on either side. They work to filter out microscopic germs and fight infection. There are many cases of children being repeatedly diagnosed with strep throat due to a weak immune system and enlarged tonsils. When the tonsils become enlarged, they block the flow of air down the airway, which causes the soft tissues in the throat to vibrate and make the sound of snoring.

Adenoids are soft tissues located behind the nasal cavity and work the same way as tonsils, as a filter tocatch germs that may be inhaled. If adenoids become inflamed or swell, due to an infection, they may block the flow of air down the throat, causing snoring.

Children at Risk of Sleep Apnea

If your child does not have an chronic infection, there is a possibility that the snoring results from a more severe condition such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when your body momentarily stops breathing, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the body and brain. Snoring is commonly seen as a symptom of sleep apnea. People who are obese, have small jaws, have Down Syndrome, and are within the age range of 2-6 are more at risk of developing sleep apnea.

Obese children are more likely to develop sleep apnea because of the fatty tissues it can develop in the neck and throat. When there is extra tissue, it blocks the airway, resulting in little to no oxygen. A study from 2010 suggested that nearly half of all obese children have obstructive sleep apnea.

Small and petite children may appear to have a smaller frame or bonestructure than other children. If the jaw is unusually small and recedes farther back than normal during the night, it can create a blockage in the airway and cause snoring.

Children with Down Syndrome are more susceptible to developing sleep apnea. These children may lack the muscle tone in the mouth and throat, resulting in flabby, fatty tissues lining the throat. This can lead to an airway blockage and a loud snoring sound.

Children between the ages of 2 and 6 also have a high risk of sleep apnea. These children typically have large adenoids and tonsils combined with an underdeveloped lower jaw that has yet to be fitted with adult teeth. This may be caused by the low probability of air passage through the throat, resulting in snoring.

The Help They Need

If you believe your child may have sleep apnea, it’s imperative to get them to a pediatrician immediately. For children who are younger than 6, treatments such as steroids or adenoid removal may shrink down their adenoids. For adults, depending on the severity of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine can be used during the night to keep the airway passage open. For moderate cases of sleep apnea, using a mouthpiece may be a more comfortable option. Treatment with a CPAP machine or a mouthpiece will help children get the restful sleep they need and prevent any long term effects from not getting proper rest.

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