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Sleep apnoea occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep. Typically, it is caused by an obstruction in the upper airway. This is referred to as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
While OSA is a common condition, it is a serious one which can lead to children missing out on restful, healthy sleep.
If left untreated, the condition can result in growth, behaviour, heart and learning problems. Take a look at the infographic about obstructive sleep apnoea to learn more.
Causes of OSA
When we go to sleep, the muscles also relax. This also refers to the muscles at the back of our throat that assist with keeping airways open. During obstructive sleep apnoea, the muscles relax too much, collapsing the airway and making it hard to breathe.
This is particularly the case if someone has enlarged adenoids or tonsils that can obstruct the airway during sleep. As a matter of fact, these are two of the most common reasons for OSA in children.
Risk factors for OSA include:
- Being overweight
- A family history of obstructive sleep apnoea
- Certain medical conditions, including cerebral palsy and Down syndrome
- A large tongue that can fall back, blocking the airways when sleeping
- A large neck
Once breathing stops, the oxygen levels in the body drop. This can trigger the brain to wake up briefly to open the airways. Most of the time, the process happens so quickly and we go straight back to sleep without even realising what happened. This pattern will repeat itself during the night.
Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea in kids include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Behavioural problems
- Snoring, usually associated with snorts, pauses and gasps
- Heavy breathing during sleep
- Sleeping in unusual positions and restless sleep
Since OSA makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, children tend to have a hard time waking up in the morning, are tired during the day and experience behaviour and attention problems.
Treating Sleep Apnoea
If enlarged adenoids or tonsils are thought to be the cause of the apnoea, the doctor will refer the child to an ear, nose and throat doctor for sleep apnoea treatment. The doctor may decide on an operation known as an Aden tonsillectomy which will remove the adenoids and tonsils. This is usually an effective treatment for OSA.
If the adenoids and tonsils aren’t the cause of the obstructive sleep apnoea, or if the child’s systems remain after the operation, the doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP). With this kind of therapy, the child will wear a mask that covers his or her nose and mouth when sleeping. The mask is connected to a machine that will continuously pump air into it in order to open up the airways.
If excess weight is a factor is obstructive sleep apnoea, it is essential to work with the doctor on diet changes, exercise and any other safe weight-loss methods. If the case of OSA is mild, doctors may monitor the child for a certain amount of time to see if symptoms improve before deciding on a treatment.