Although not commonly expected, children and teens also have potential to have sleep disorders. Children have less lung capacity, so they have less oxygen in reserve. Also, they tend to take frequent, shallow breaths as opposed to the deep, slow breaths taken by adults. Combined, these issues mean even brief apnea episodes can cause children to have lower oxygen levels and/or abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide in their blood.
Symptoms in Children and Teens
Some symptoms to watch for include:
- daytime sleepiness in older children and teens
- a history of loud snoring, punctuated by obvious pauses in breathing and gasps for breath
- sleeping in unusual positions
- moving around during sleep
- headaches in the morning
- bed wetting or sleep terrors
- breathing through the mouth during the day
Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children can have long-term physiological impacts. In early-childhood, Obstructive Sleep Apnea can slow a child’s growth rate. In addition to the symptoms listed above, untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea can lead to high blood pressure, awakening from sleep, sweating during sleep, sleeping with the neck overextended, hyperactivity, or aggressive behaviour.
Treatments for Children and Teens
Similar to adults, CPAP therapy can offer relief for children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. A specially sized CPAP mask that fits over their nose and/or mouth, and gently blows air into their airway to help keep it open during sleep. This method of treatment is highly effective.
Sometimes, it is necessary to operate to treat a child with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Surgery can involve the removal of the adenoids and tonsils to reduce obstructions and increases the size of their upper airway. As a result the child is able to breathe normally. CPAP may be used if surgery is not an option or if OSA persists after surgery.
Some children may benefit from wearing an oral dental appliance during sleep. These are devices custom made to suit your child’s mouth. They are designed to maintain a free flow of oxygen into the lungs and are available from specialist dental practitioners.
Following treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, children tend to show healthy gains in both height and weight. They are usually happier, more energetic, and better able to focus in school. They can show improvements in sports performance and hand-eye coordination.
Children aged 16 or under should be referred by your family physician to a specialist in children’s sleep disorders. Please discuss your child’s sleep disorders with your family doctor or contact us for assistance.