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It’s fairly well known that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common in adults. What many of us don’t know is that it’s also is becoming a big problem world-wide for children.
How does childhood sleep apnea occur?
The main reason why more kids are getting diagnosed with childhood sleep apnea because are kids are getting fatter. An obese child is 4-5 times more likely to have breathing-related sleep problems than a non-obese child.
The other major cause of sleep apnea in kids is big tonsils and adenoids. These days, most tonsillectomies in kids are done for OSA.
The remaining cases of childhood sleep apnea occur as a result of congenital syndromes, such as Down Syndrome, that result in noses and throats that don’t work like they should. A fair number of kids with chronic nasal congestion from allergies get childhood sleep apnea as well.
Diagnosing childhood sleep apnea
Diagnosis happens the same way as with adults, with the overnight sleep study, also known as polysomnography. It’s important to make sure that the child really has the problem, and not merely “simple snoring”.
The criteria for making the diagnosis in a child are different than in an adult. In children, it’s important to pay attention to inadequate breathing (hypopnea) in addition to obstructions. This is because hypopnea can lead to the same consequences as obstruction.
Because so much childhood sleep apnea is related to obesity, weight loss programs are effective, and can forestall the need for surgery.
If weight loss is not an immediate option, tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy is the treatment of choice.
For allergy sufferers whose OSA appears to be caused by their stuffy noses, steroid nasal sprays appear to help. Many varieties are available over-the-counter in the US.