Obstructive Sleep Apnoea in children is a condition that affects up to ten per cent of children. It’s rarely serious but if left untreated it can affect a child’s sleep to the extent that they suffer growth, learning and behavioural problems.

When does Obstructive sleep apnoea in children occur?

When the soft material at the back of the throat, including the tonsils and adenoids, block the airways, causing breathing difficulties. People with obstructive sleep apnoea tend to sleep fitfully as they are constantly gasping for breath.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea in children

Sleep apnoea can be difficult to spot, but some of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea in children to look out for are:

  • Snoring
  • Disrupted sleep (waking briefly 15-30 times or more)
  • Sleeping in unusual positions (to open up the airways as much as possible)
  • Pauses in breathing, or an irregular breathing pattern
  • Gasping for breath, or choking
  • Laboured/heavy breathing while asleep
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Bedwetting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Night terrors

As well as experiencing symptoms during sleep, children with obstructive sleep apnoea are also likely to behave badly, be irritable or have concentration difficulties during the day because they are sleep deprived. They may also be drowsy during the daytime because of the lack of good quality sleep they get at night.

Bear in mind that lots of children who don’t have sleep apnoea snore, wet the bed or have night terrors. However, if you have spotted several of these symptoms in your child it’s worth seeing your GP for further investigation.

Causes of obstructive sleep apnoea in children

The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnoea in children is enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If your child has frequent ear, nose and throat infections they may be at risk of developing sleep apnoea.

Obesity is also a cause of obstructive sleep apnoea as excess flesh can put pressure on the airways and make breathing difficult.

Finally, some neuromuscular diseases or congenital conditions such as Down’s Syndrome can be a cause of obstructive sleep apnoea in children.

Treating obstructive sleep apnoea in children

For around ninety per cent of children with obstructive sleep apnoea, the solution is surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids. If surgery isn’t successful, then the child may need CPAP treatment – this is where a nasal tube is used to pump air into the airways during sleep.

If the obstructive sleep apnoea is because of obesity then losing weight can make a big difference.

Finally, children with obstructive sleep apnoea might find they sleep better on their side rather than on their back.

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