How Can I Tell if My Child Has Sleep Apnea? (Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment)

A disorder that affects breathing while sleeping is known as sleep apnea. Two common kinds are obstructive sleep apnea, sometimes known as OSA, and central sleep apnea (CSA). The third is a mixture of the two, known as Mixed sleep apnea.

In its most basic form, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by a blockage or constriction in the airway that extends from the nasal passages to the alveoli (upper airway). Various factors can cause obstruction or constriction, but the end consequence is a decreased amount of air (oxygen) entering your lungs from the environment.

When you are asleep, you may suffer from CSA, which is a form of sleep apnea in which there is a lag in the signals from your brain asking you to breathe. It is unknown how prevalent sleep apnea is in infants; however, between one and five percent of the children suffer from it.

If it is caught in its early stages, sleep apnea could be managed to eliminate the risk of developing more long-term consequences.

When most people think about sleep apnea, they typically do not link it with children. However, children can suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is frequently identified in children who either do not get enough sleep or have symptoms that are consistent with the disorder while sleeping or after they wake up.

Sleep apnea can have long-term consequences if left untreated. Pediatric sleep apnea affects between one and four percent of children in the United States, with the disorder affecting kids between the ages of two and eight the most common.

If you are aware of the symptoms, it will be easier to get a diagnosis and begin treatment at an earlier stage.

In this article, you’ll learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of sleep apnea in children.

How Can You Tell if Your Child Has Sleep Apnea?

How Can You Tell If Your Child Has Sleep Apnea

A parent can identify whether or not their child might have sleep apnea by observing their child while they are sleeping and looking for numerous different indications. The first thing that they should do is listen to the baby’s respiration while they begin their examination. Notifying your kid’s health care provider is important if your child frequently snorts, chokes, gasps for air, or pauses for breaths.

Other signs to watch for include choking and noisy breathing. If you consistently hear something that sounds like snoring throughout the night, then this is another cause for concern for you. Although it’s not unusual for young children to fuss and move around in their sleep, infants do not make the characteristic snoring sound.

If a child has sleep apnea, they will also have trouble breathing when they are napping during the day, which is something else that should be taken into consideration because it is really crucial. There is evidence that sleep apnea can occur during the daytime as well.

Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea In Children

It is painful when you come to know that your child is suffering from sleep apnea. Here are some symptoms to know if your child is suffering from sleep apnea.

1. Snoring


Children should never have to deal with persistent snoring, as a general rule, because it can have serious health consequences. Infections in the upper respiratory tract, such as the cold or the flu, can cause occasional snoring, although it is not normal for this to become a chronic problem.

Snoring that lasts for an extended period of time may be an indication of an irregular airflow through the upper airways, which include the mouth, the nose, and the passageway that leads to the lungs. The snoring sound is caused by turbulence in these areas, which may be heard in the background.

Snoring and sleep apnea frequently occur together; therefore, if your child snores, it is essential to have them both evaluated for the condition. Other factors that can contribute to snoring include allergies and swollen tonsils or adenoids, both of which are treatable conditions.

The presence of persistent snoring in a child is an alarming sign that the child needs to be assessed by a pediatric otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) or a sleep specialist.

2. Breathing From the Mouth

Breathing From the Mouth

Another possible indication that a child has sleep apnea is breathing through their mouth. As a species, humans are obligate nasal breathers, which means that our natural breathing mechanism is the nose. One of the most prevalent causes of mouth breathing is a chronic obstruction in the nasal passages.

The use of mouth breathing can accelerate the onset of sleep apnea if it is not corrected. If you breathe via your mouth instead of your nose, the muscles in your jaw will be more relaxed, which will eventually result in an elongation of your face.

It is also possible to contribute to the weakening of the tongue and the other muscles found in the mouth and throat.

People who breathe through their mouths have a higher risk of developing sleep-related breathing disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea than those who breathe through their noses.

3. Sweating


It is not typical for youngsters to wake up soaked in sweat regularly unless there is a clear indication that they have a high temperature. However, if your child’s clothes, bedding, or blankets are drenched when you wake them up in the morning, this may indicate that they had difficulty breathing while they were sleeping.

It has been found that people who have sleep apnea have lower oxygen levels, higher heart rates and blood pressures, and higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, when this takes place while a person is sleeping, an excessive amount of sweat is usually the result.

4. Bruxism


Bruxism, which is more often known as teeth grinding, can be unpleasant, particularly in youngsters. However, it is also a marker of sleep apnea, although not many people realize this.

Sleep apnea is a common condition when the soft tissues located at the back of the throat obstruct the airway. While clenching one’s teeth and grinding one’s teeth can assist keep the airway from collapsing in the supine (upward-facing) posture, tightening the jaw and tongue can also help avoid the collapse of the airway position.

Even though mouthguards can protect teeth from damage, treating sleep apnea is typically the most effective way to eliminate this and other symptoms associated with the illness.

5. Restless Sleep

Restless Sleep

Although it’s not uncommon for children to have a restless sleep, what’s concerning is when their restlessness is excessive and continues night after night.

Excessive movement during sleep is a symptom of sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing becomes difficult and disrupts sleep. In younger children, whose teeth have still not completely matured, this symptom of sleep apnea is frequently the first one to appear.

If you wake up and find the sheets curled into a ball at the foot of the bed or on the floor, you may have sleep apnea or another form of respiratory impairment. In children, experiencing persistent restlessness during sleep indicates the need for assessment by a sleep specialist.

6. Bedwetting


Children frequently wet the bed when they sleep; however, this behavior is regarded to be a concern if it occurs more than twice per week in children over the age of five. In addition, the condition known as sleep enuresis affects somewhere between 3% to 30% of children between the ages of 4 and 12.

It happens during slow-wave sleep, which is the stage of sleep in which a child would be less able to be awakened when they have a full bladder. This condition is known as sleep enuresis.

Bedwetting can be a symptom of sleep apnea, although sleep enuresis can be brought on by an infection, stress, or any other medical disorders. In addition, it is believed that sleep apnea can generate chemical imbalances in the brain, resulting in bedwetting in children and adults.

7. Excessive Napping

Excessive Napping

It is perfectly natural for children to give up napping at some time during the course of their development. In this case, it could be a sign that they are having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep.

Infants often require two to three naps during the day, each one lasting anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. A child will typically take two naps per day between the ages of six and 12 months, and the length of each nap might range from twenty minutes to several hours.

If a child is already of school age, the need for a daily nap is unusual unless the child is chronically sleep-deprived.

8. Growth Issues

Growth Issues

At the pediatrician’s office, your child’s weight and height will likely be plotted on a graph that is referred to as a growth curve. This graph shows your child’s growth percentile in relation to other children his or her age and gender who have grown at a similar rate.

It is common for children who suffer from sleep apnea to “slip off the development curve,” which means that they are unusually short for their age. It is assumed that this is due to disrupting the patient’s slow-wave sleep. However, there is evidence that treating sleep apnea can reduce the tendency seen in certain children and get them back on track with their growth trajectory.

9. Sleepwalking


It’s estimated that between 20 and 30 percent of children will experience sleepwalking at least once before the age of ten, and that number might be as high as 40 percent. It has its peak from around the age of five and then gradually decreases in occurrence during puberty.

Sleepwalking is frequently seen in children who suffer from confusional arousal, a condition in which the child gives the impression of being awake but continues to exist in a confused, subconscious state. These occurrences seem to occur in the early hours of the night most of the time.

Sleep apnea is thought to contribute to sleepwalking, although the reasons for sleepwalking are frequently unable to be determined. When a child starts breathing after a pause, they often experience brief periods of stirring, which can result in confusional arousal.

10. ADHD


According to a German study published in 2018, sleep apnea may be a prevalent contributing factor to ADHD, which is a disorder characterized by excessive activity and inattention.

Sleep deprivation has the opposite effect on children as it does on adults. Instead of being tired throughout the day, children who are sleep deprived exhibit hyperactivity, forgetfulness, aggression, distractibility, and poor impulse control.

In children with ADHD, sleep apnea is a problem that is frequently missed, resulting in incorrect diagnoses and therapies.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

Various factors can cause pediatric sleep apnea. These include:

  • Large adenoids and tonsils
  • High palate
  • Low, unhealthful position of the tongue
  • The protrusion of the tongue 
  • Bruxism/teeth grinding during the night
  • Underdeveloped jaw
  • Obesity
  • Airway tumor or growth
  • Congenital flaws
  • Face and skull abnormalities
  • Neuromuscular dysfunctions

Treatment of Sleep Apnea in Children

Treatment Of Sleep Apnea In Children

The treatment plan for your child’s sleep apnea will be decided upon after determining the root cause of their condition. The following are some of the potential treatments for sleep apnea that could be necessary for your child.

  • Adenotonsillectomy: Surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids has the potential to treat sleep apnea in children that are brought on by swollen tonsils and adenoids.
  • Myofunctional treatment: Throat and mouth exercises, also referred to as “myofunctional therapy” or “oropharyngeal exercises,” have been proven to alleviate the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring in children.
  • Orthodontics: Rapid maxillary expansion and mandibular advancement devices are two examples of orthodontic techniques that make use of dental hardware to expand the patient’s mouth, thereby improving the way air moves through their airways.
  • CPAP: It stands for continuous positive airway pressure and refers to a machine that constantly pushes air into the airway in order to treat sleep apnea. Patients who use CPAP are required to sleep with a mask that is connected to a pump. Children may require additional behavioral help in order to learn to sleep with a CPAP mask because it might be a challenging change for them.
  • Treatment of allergies and inflammation of the sinuses: A steroid nasal spray, saltwater nasal rinse, or other allergy treatments may be a solution for children with mild sleep apnea symptoms and allergies. As a result of repeatedly inhaling through the mouth, the airways and tongue get constricted, resulting in a bad posture. Therefore, treatment for allergies is frequently used in combination with other therapies.

The Bottom Line

Regarding daytime symptoms, adults and children with sleep apnea might have vastly different experiences. Sleepiness and exhaustion throughout the day are more common in children than adults, who may also experience attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity disorder.

Additionally, the treatment of sleep apnea in children is different. CPAP is the most prevalent treatment for adults, whereas surgery is the most common for children. The only people who can benefit from some orthodontic treatments are still-growing youngsters, so adults with sleep apnea are out of luck.

If you are concerned that your kid may have sleep apnea, your first step should be to consult with your child’s pediatrician. The next step would be to refer you to an expert in sleep disorders for more testing and, if necessary, treatment.

Untreated sleep apnea can harm your child’s growth and development, so addressing it is critical. In addition, leaving untreated sleep apnea increases your child’s risk of getting heart disease, stroke, and diabetes as an adult.

Sarah Wagner

I'm Sarah Wagner, and I founded Sweet Island Dreams in 2022. It's a blog dedicated to helping people mental vacation virtually anytime they want. By providing information about the best sleep of your life, I help people drift away to paradise without ever having to leave their bed!

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