How to Diagnose and Treat Sleep Apnea in Children?
The indicators of child health and well-being across the world are concerning. Thanks to the increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions, increased exposure to unhealthy commodities, and rising levels of obesity in children, the lives of millions of kids are at risk. Among several conditions that may result from these issues and affect the well-being of children, a rapidly growing health concern is sleep apnea. It is a breathing-related rest disorder where kids experience interruptions in the respiratory process while sleeping at night.
On the occasion of Children's Day, celebrated on 14th November on the birthday of former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, let's learn more about sleep apnea in children and its possible treatments. Here you go!
What is Paediatric Sleep Apnea? What are its types?
Paediatric Sleep Apnea refers to a condition where kids fail to rest peacefully at night because of pauses in breathing. Since it affects the quality of life by leading to issues like daytime sleepiness and behavioural complications, this health condition is quite concerning. It is noticed rarely in children, but doctors say that the fewer numbers are because most cases of paediatric sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
Experts suggest that sleep apnea is primarily of three types, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), and Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA). In OSA, the kids face trouble inhaling oxygen because of the constricted airway; CSA results in breathing problems because of miscommunication between the brain and respiratory muscles; MSA happens when the child develops both OSA and CSA.
What causes obstructive sleep apnea in children?
Children can develop obstructive sleep apnea because of several reasons. These include:
1. Structural Issues
In many children, structural problems like enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the reason behind sleep apnea. Located at the back of the throat, these glands are a part of the immune system. In some cases, they get enlarged because of inflammation, genetics, and infections, and cause difficulty in breathing at night as a result of the restricted airway.
2. Childhood Obesity
Another reason for obstructive sleep apnea in children is the growing rate of obesity. This health problem, where excess fat collects on the throat muscles and results in a constricted airway, is a major reason for OSA in kids.
3. Other risk factors
Other reasons like a small jaw, taking sedatives, inhaling smoke, having a family history of OSA, and weakness in the tongue and throat because of Down syndrome can result in sleep apnea. Besides, OSA is also prevalent in kids with nasal allergies.
What causes central sleep apnea in children?
While central sleep apnea is not as common as OSA in children, its possibility cannot be denied. The condition may develop because of genetic disorders like congenital central hypoventilation syndrome. Also, kids who have health conditions that interfere with the workings of the central nervous system are likely to develop CSA.
What are the sleep apnea symptoms in kids?
Although snoring is one of the most common sleep apnea symptoms in kids, it doesn't mean every child who snores is suffering from this condition. Other signs prevalent in children with this health problem are coughing, sleepwalking, sleep talking, bedwetting, sleep terrors, night sweats, mouth breathing, and choking at night.
Additionally, difficulty concentrating, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritable mood, behavioural problems, and difficulty controlling emotions are other sleep apnea signs that are noticeable in kids during the day.
How can you diagnose sleep apnea in children?
For diagnosing sleep apnea in children, the healthcare expert begins by questioning the parent or guardian about their kid's sleep habits and symptoms. Then, a physical examination of the mouth, neck, and throat is performed to determine the condition. If the doctor suspects sleep apnea during the exam, he may recommend undergoing a polysomnography test. It is a painless and non-invasive study that measures specific body functions to provide definitive results.
How can you treat sleep apnea in children?
A few options for child sleep apnea treatment are as follows:
The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine pumps air into the lungs to open up obstructions. The therapy involves wearing a mask while sleeping, which can be uneasy for kids.
2. Myofunctional therapy
Another way to improve obstructive sleep apnea in children is to practise mouth and throat exercises, also known as myofunctional therapy.
To help with the flow of air through the airway, some orthodontic approaches recommend using dental hardware to create more space in the mouth.
4. Allergy treatment
Using nasal sprays and saline nasal rinses can help children with mild sleep apnea. These meds reduce airway constriction and poor tongue posture resulting from breathing through the mouth.
What natural treatments can improve sleep apnea in children?
Besides the treatments mentioned above, here are some natural OSA remedies:
1. Weight loss
Since obesity is a risk factor for OSA, losing weight can alleviate its symptoms. For this, children are advised to follow a healthy diet plan and exercise regularly.
2. Avoid allergens
Avoiding the causes of allergic rhinitis like pollen and mould can help reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
3. Positional therapy
When sleep apnea results from resting on the back, elevating the head of the bed and resting on the side can improve the condition.
Many people question can kids have sleep apnea. Well, the answer is yes. This breathing-related sleep disorder can affect people of any age and should be treated soon. While one method of managing OSA involves wearing dental devices or CPAP, natural remedies like losing weight, avoiding allergens, and trying positional therapy can also prove helpful.
Disclaimer: The facts and information contained in this article are obtained from reputed medical research organizations and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & beliefs of ResMed. The content here should not be taken as medical advice. It is for informational purposes only, and because each child is unique, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before starting the treatment.