Can Children Have Sleep Apnea?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that sleep apnea is only for overweight adult males. The fact is that sleep apnea can affect all ages, including children. I have worked with hundreds of children and have children in my family who have sleep apnea.

How do you know if a child has sleep apnea?

A classic symptom of having sleep apnea is daytime fatigue; however, this can be difficult to detect in younger children. Especially for those who show behaviors (not listening, acting out, hyperactive), difficulty concentrating in class (for the school-age child), difficulty getting to sleep or even staying asleep, morning headaches, or sore throat.

In my family member's case, the hyperactivity and daytime fatigue, even after sleeping 10+ hours, were the cause of concern.

Imagine pulling an all-nighter

I want to pause and help you understand what these kids who have sleep apnea are feeling. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter? You feel utterly exhausted, but then at some point, you get an adrenaline rush. This is where the hyperactivity can become confusing.

Many parents confuse it with just bad behavior, when in fact, it’s simply that their child is not getting a good night's sleep. Just a reminder, sleep apnea can cause you to wake up several times throughout the night.

What to look for in children

Just like adults, snoring is a big sign. You may also witness your child stopping breathing; this is called apnea. If your child tears their bed apart, this could represent that they are constantly repositioning themselves throughout the night.

Other signs to watch for:

  • Finding the child sleeping in different positions in bed
  • Falling out of bed
  • Sleeping with their neck arched
  • Sleeping for an adequate length of time and still being exhausted
  • Dark circles under the eyes, or just simply the look of exhaustion

How is a child tested for sleep apnea?

Determining if a child has sleep apnea is the same as for an adult, having a sleep study. I recommend seeing a pediatric sleep specialist or a pediatric ENT (ears, nose, and throat) specialist.

If they recommend a sleep study, you will want to make sure to use a pediatric sleep lab. They have sleep technicians who are trained to work with children. Having all those wires and electrodes connected to you can be scary. Having a patient sleep technician can make a world of difference for a scared child.

What is the treatment for pediatric sleep apnea?

With children, the first line of treatment is typically having their tonsils and adenoids removed. Many times the tonsils and adenoids are the cause of the obstruction. However, even after the removal, a child may still need to use a CPAP. Many sleep specialists and ENTs do a post-op sleep study to compare to the pre-op study.

If you are questioning whether your child may have sleep apnea, contact their pediatrician and ask who they recommend for a sleep specialist. Sleep is a crucial part of a healthy, happy life. Help your child get a good night's sleep.

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