What is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 01 August 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Pediatric sleep apnea is a type of disorder in children where breathing is disrupted during sleep. Generally, children with sleep apnea will have multiple periods where their breathing suddenly stops and starts repeatedly in one sleep session. Many children with this disorder have pediatric obstructive sleep apnea or pediatric OSA. This common type of sleep apnea can occur when throat muscles located in the very back of the throat relax. Some children may be born with pediatric sleep apnea or develop it as they get older.

When certain muscles in a child's throat become very relaxed, important structures like the tongue and the tonsils can lose their support. This can cause airways to narrow or even close. The inability to get a sufficient amount of air into the lungs can cause this to happen. When the air becomes constricted, breathing may become very shallow or even halt momentarily. This occurrence may cause a child to briefly gasp for air or make snorting sounds while sleeping.

Pediatric sleep apnea symptoms are usually different in different children. Many children with this condition will snore heavily. This symptom may not be as identifiable in babies with sleep apnea. Mouth breathing may also be noticeable. Children may sleep in abnormal positions, sweat excessively and wet the bed as well.


Often, children with pediatric sleep apnea will be very tired and excessively sleepy during the day. This is generally due to their inability to get an adequate amount of sleep at night. The lack of sleep may also lead to frequent headaches. Sometimes, the condition can cause behavioral changes. The child may become unable to concentrate for significant amounts of time, his or her behavior may become aggressive and he or she may become irritable.

After completing a physical examination, doctors may send a child for certain tests to diagnose pediatric sleep apnea. The child may have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an X-ray or a computerized tomography or CT scan. A polysomnogram may also be performed. This test may be conducted in a sleep study center. It measures different types of activities during sleep, such as breathing patterns, brain activity, heart rate and oxygen levels.

The results of conducted tests will help doctors determine the best treatment for this sleep disorder. If doctors feel a child may benefit from having his or her tonsils removed, a tonsillectomy may be performed. When the adenoids are causing the problem, they may be removed in an adenoidectomy. A surgery which combines both procedures is known as an adenenotonsillectomy. For some children, losing weight may be the only needed pediatric sleep apnea treatment.



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