When most people think of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), they usually don’t associate it with children. However, sleep apnea in children is more common than you might think. If left untreated, it can also lead to serious health consequences down the line. Pediatric sleep apnea affects one to four percent of children in the United States, most commonly in ages two to eight years old.

Discover the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and why treatment is so important.

young child resting peacefully in bed

What is Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a child’s breathing becomes either partially or completely blocked during sleep. There are a few differences between child sleep apnea and adult sleep apnea. For instance, the most common underlying cause of adult sleep apnea is obesity. The most common underlying cause for children however is enlarged adenoids and tonsils, high palate, and low/unhealthy tongue posture.

An early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent health problems that can affect growth, behavior, and development. 

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

A few different factors can contribute to pediatric sleep apnea. These factors include:

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • High palate
  • Low unhealthy tongue posture
  • Tongue thrust
  • Teeth grinding/nocturnal bruxing
  • Underdeveloped jaw
  • Obesity
  • Tumor or growth in airway
  • Birth defects
  • Craniofacial anomalies
  • Neuromuscular disorders

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea For Children

If your child shows signs of any of the following symptoms, we highly encourage taking them to get tested for sleep apnea.

  • Nasal voice
  • Mouth breathing
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Noisy breathing
  • Gasping or snorting during sleep
  • Restless sleeping
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Daytime irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavior problems
  • Bedwetting
  • Sleepwalking
  • Night terrors
  • Learning problems
  • Morning headaches
  • Sleeping in odd positions
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Difficult waking up in the morning

These symptoms can be a sign your child has sleep apnea or another health condition. 

Risk Factors of Childhood Sleep Apnea

Certain factors can put your child at a higher risk of sleep apnea than others. The risk factors include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Abnormalities in the face or skull
  • Cerebral palsy
  • History of low birth weight
  • Family history of OSA
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Having a large tongue

What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Children’s Sleep Apnea?

If your child doesn’t get diagnosed with sleep apnea and receive treatment, it can dramatically impact their quality of life. One of the biggest impacts will be their energy levels during the day. A child with untreated sleep apnea can struggle with learning problems and experience poor academic performance. Their hyperactivity and inability to focus can lead to an inaccurate diagnosis of ADHD. It’s estimated that 25% of children diagnosed with ADHD may actually have sleep apnea.

Not only will children struggle to thrive socially and academically, but they can also develop serious health problems down the line including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. If an underdeveloped jaw is the cause of their sleep apnea, they will also experience orthodontia issues as well as oral health problems.

The sooner a child receives sleep apnea treatment, the less likely they will experience complications in the future.

little girl laying on her stomach, snoring in bedDiagnosis

If you suspect your child has sleep apnea, the first step would be taking them to their doctor. Your doctor might send them to an ENT to see if they have oversized tonsils or adenoids. They may also give your child a sleep test. After running a series of tests and examining the jaw and airway, your doctor should be able to give them a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

Childhood Sleep Apnea Treatment

Depending on what the cause of your child’s sleep apnea is will determine their treatment route. The following are some of the possible sleep apnea treatments your child might need.

Myofunctional Therapy

Mouth and throat exercises can help correct oral posture and other factors that contribute to sleep apnea and snoring.

Oral Appliance Therapy

Oral appliances can hold the jaw in the correct position to keep the airway open during sleep.

Interceptive Orthodontics

Interceptive orthodontics can help guide the jaw to establish correct growth patterns. Orthodontics can also correct under or overdeveloped jaws. At Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea, we offer several different types of holistic orthodontics for all ages. Children as young as five years old can use our orthodontic treatments to prevent pediatric sleep apnea. Orthodontics can also help children who already suffer from sleep apnea and need to correct their jaw growth. Interceptive orthodontics can simply future orthodontic treatments or even prevent the need for them at all.

Allergy and/or Sinus Treatments

Children who suffer from allergies or other sinus problems can treat sleep apnea by treating their allergy and sinus issues. This can involve nasal sprays, medications, saline nasal sprays, and more.

Lessen The Chance of Being Diagnosed With Pediatric Sleep Apnea in Lee’s Summit

If you’re concerned your child has sleep apnea or you would like to do everything in your power to help lessen the chance of being diagnosed with sleep apnea, we offer several different solutions. At Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea, we offer holistic orthodontics to address pediatric sleep apnea as well as oral appliance therapy. Contact us at (816) 795-1000 to book a consultation with our sleep dentists in Lee’s Summit today.