How do I Recognize Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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Obstructive sleep apnea in children can be a very concerning situation. Generally, when a child has obstructive sleep apnea, muscles in the back of the child's throat become too relaxed during sleep. For individuals seeking ways to recognize this disorder in children, one of the most obvious signs is noticeable lapses in breathing while the child is sleeping. Mouth breathing and intensely heavy snoring can be other ways to recognize this type of sleep apnea. In addition, abnormal sleeping patterns, unusual sleeping positions and behavioral changes can be recognizable signs of obstructive sleep apnea in children.

One of the easiest ways to recognize obstructive sleep apnea in children is to pay close attention to the way the child breathes while he or she is sleeping. Often, when a child has this type of sleep apnea, he or she may have lapses in his or her breathing during sleep. Commonly, it is observed that the child will stop breathing for a few seconds and immediately start breathing normally again. This sign may be one of the most disturbing ways to recognize this disorder, especially for a parent. Although, like many adults with sleep apnea, children with this problem are usually unaware that they briefly stop breathing during sleep.


Obstructive sleep apnea in children may also be recognized by mouth breathing and loud, heavy snoring. Mouth breathing is quite common in children with sleep apnea and many children may complain often of a sore throat upon waking up. In addition, heavy snoring is another one of the most distinguishable signs of this condition. Often, children with obstructive sleep apnea will snore so loud that they may wake themselves up. Furthermore, the snoring may sound irregular, such as being raspy or high-pitched and squeaky.

Noticeable abnormal sleeping patterns can be another way to recognize sleep apnea of this kind in children. For instance, the child may sleep on and off throughout the night and may have a difficult time getting a good night's sleep. This may lead to excessive sleepiness throughout the next day. Abnormal sleeping positions may also be a way to recognize obstructive sleep apnea in children. Some children may discover that their sleeping is less disturbed by sleeping in certain ways and this may lead to the abnormal sleeping positions.

Obstructive sleep apnea in children may be recognized by behavioral changes as well. For example, the child may become extremely irritable, sensitive and extremely fussy. He or she may become more argumentative and act out of his or her usual character as well. For school-aged children, this may lead to problems learning and concentrating. In addition, the child may become hyperactive, which may cause problems at home and school.

There are many things doctors may do to curb the side effects of sleep apnea in children. If large tonsils or adenoids are the cause of the obstructive sleep apnea, doctors may perform surgery to remove these organs. A tonsillectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of the tonsils and the process of surgically removing the adenoids is called an adenoidectomy. In addition, sleep apnea equipment may also be used to provide continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP. This type of treatment is generally administered by having the patient wear a special sleep apnea device, usually in the form of a nasal mask.



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