For every classroom of 25 children, one of them is likely to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you think that’s surprising, here’s an even bigger shocker: OSA appears in children as young as 2-8 years of age.
Even though snoring is the most common symptom of OSA in children, the first sign that parents often notice is disruptive behavior. And OSA is just one of several sleep disorders that interfere with your child’s sleep and cause behavior problems.
Here at Glow Orthodontics, we specialize in treating sleep disorders in children, so we’re happy to provide this information about sleep disorders, especially one of the the most common problems: obstructive sleep apnea.
Causes of sleep apnea
OSA occurs when the airway at the back of the throat becomes blocked while your child sleeps. The problem occurs because soft tissues in their throat relax during sleep, allowing them to fall back toward the airway.
If your child’s airway is partially covered, they snore as the air they breathe vibrates the soft tissues. When the airway is completely obstructed, air doesn’t get through, and oxygen levels in the body drop. As your child’s brain detects low oxygen levels, it awakens them just enough to start breathing again.
These apnea episodes only last a short time, but they disrupt your child’s normal sleep cycle, which means they don’t get a restorative sleep. Additionally, your child can stop breathing quite frequently. Apnea episodes can occur 5-10 times or more per hour while your child sleeps.
There’s something else you should know about children and OSA: The majority of children diagnosed with OSA are not overweight. In adults, being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for OSA. In children, the most significant risk factors are inflamed and enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
Symptoms of sleep apnea in children
When children have OSA, they may toss and turn during the night or wake up with a headache, but the two most common symptoms are:
Snoring is the most common symptom in children and adults, but since 27% of children are habitual snorers, the trick is to watch for loud snoring that seems to interrupt their sleep. You may notice loud snoring, followed by brief silence when their breathing stops, then a gasp or snort when they start to breathe again.
If you and your children sleep through the night, you may not even notice snoring. That’s why disruptive daytime behavior is often the first sign of OSA in children.
After snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness is the next most common symptom of sleep apnea. At least, that’s how it appears in adults. But in children, excessive daytime sleepiness generally doesn’t manifest as actual sleepiness. Instead, it turns into disruptive behaviors.
Have you experienced your child’s behavior go downhill into disobedience, hyperactivity, or tantrums when they miss a nap? The same thing happens in children with OSA except it becomes more persistent and appears in the form of behavioral, social, and academic problems.
As OSA disrupts their sleep, children exhibit a wide range of difficult behaviors. Your child may become irritable, aggressive, depressed, or emotionally volatile. You and your child’s teacher may notice behaviors that are typical of ADHD, like inattentiveness, impulsivity, an inability to concentrate, and hyperactivity.
Children with OSA often begin to act out at home and school. You may also notice a decline in their academic performance in language arts, math, and science.
What other sleep disorders affect children?
Children can develop several types of sleep disorders, including insomnia, movement disorders like restless legs, or one of the parasomnias, such as sleep walking, sleep terrors, and sleep paralysis.
However, here at Glow Orthodontics, we specialize in sleep disorders that are effectively treated with an oral appliance, which includes OSA and two other conditions:
Upper airway resistance syndrome
This condition is similar to OSA – it’s caused by the same airway obstruction and leads to the same symptoms – but it isn’t severe enough to meet the criteria used to diagnose OSA.
Many children have snoring that’s severe enough to affect their sleep, but doesn’t block their breathing. In some cases, they have an underlying condition responsible for their snoring, like blocked nasal passages or a deformed nasal septum. In cases where soft tissues in their mouth are responsible, we can help stop their snoring.
If you notice any potential symptoms in your child, or you have questions about OSA, call Glow Orthodontics to schedule an appointment and learn about safe and effective treatment options for OSA.