January 18, 2016

Child therapy: What is Child Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea (OSA) is a very severe and common disorder in adults. It affects more than 18 million Americans. Although the disorder is primarily diagnosed in adults, child sleep apnea is becoming much more prevalent. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 1 to 4 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is defined as a “blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep”(American Sleep Apnea Association). 

In children, the most common symptom is disturbed sleep due to snoring. Other noticeable signs are pauses in breathing, tossing and turning, chronic mouth breathing, and night sweats. Current research on child sleep apnea has shown affects in the development of the child. There are many connections between sleep apnea and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which may be a cause of learning difficulties and behavioral problems. Child sleep apnea may also lead to bed-wetting, sleepwalking, and other hormonal and metabolic problems. The only certain way to diagnose sleep apnea is through a polysomnography, which requires an overnight stay at a sleep lab. If the child’s sleep apnea is considered severe, an adenotonsillectomy may be required. Adenotonsillectomy is a surgical procedure in which a doctor removes the adenoids and tonsils.The second main intervention is a dental evaluation to assess dental cross bite due to underdeveloped hard palate, possibly from bottle feeding and a soft diet. These vaulted shaped palates make it impossible to have the tongue move to the roof of the mouth to get out of the obstructive airway. In addition to making room for the tongue it also expands the nasal base which allows for important nasal breathing. This procedure can be done with a palatal expander which can move the palate in as little as 6 months. Once the child’s facial bone is fully developed, an oral appliance may be required to wear during sleep.The other treatment that can be done is a CPAP which does not require the child’s patient bones to be fully developed. There is a possibility that some children may grow out of OSA if they maintain a healthy sleep pattern, diet, and exercise.

For further information on child OSA, please visit the American Sleep Apnea Association for a list of pediatricians, treatment information, and support.


“Children’s Sleep Apnea.”American Sleep Apnea Association. American Sleep Apnea Association, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.

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