Sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing either becomes very shallow or stops altogether for a few seconds or minutes while he sleeps. Infant sleep apnea can be infinitely more dangerous because it can lead to brain damage or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Infant sleep apnea can occur in any infant from 1-month to 1-year-old, but it is more common in premature babies or those suffering from an illness. In most cases, infant sleep apnea ceases as the baby gets older—it is normal for a baby’s breathing to stop while she sleeps, as her breathing reflexes are not fully developed. If the pauses seem to last more than about 20 seconds or occur many times in the night, then a physician may need to be contacted to see if more serious health conditions are contributing.
While pinpointing the exact cause of infant sleep apnea may be impossible, there are plenty of factors which may be attributed to the condition. Blocked airways, genetic or birth defects, and a low body weight are all common conditions which can cause or aggravate sleep apnea. Other conditions such as allergies or asthma and even outside elements such as cigarette smoke may also be contributors.
Many times, mild infant sleep apnea has no symptoms other than the slight stoppage of breathing. Some cases, however, may have symptoms which are very similar to adult sleep apnea. Snoring, restlessness while sleeping, and a pale or bluish coloring may be signs of a more serious version of the condition. Understanding the difference between normal pauses and potentially dangerous ones could mean the difference between life and death. Any infant who has stopped breathing long enough to change color is believed to be in danger.
Preventing infant sleep apnea is not entirely possible, but it is possible to reduce the risk and eliminate things which may aggravate it. Ensuring the baby’s sleeping area is free of dirt and dust, keeping all smoke away from the infant, and not letting him sleep on his chest can all help prevent serious apnea dangers. It is also important that a physician be consulted immediately once a baby’s parents notice he has prolonged pauses in breathing, and all instructions given by the physician should be followed.