Children with obstructive sleep apnea may experience fatigue or extreme tiredness, poor school performance, difficulty paying attention or learning and behavioral problems. 

You might think your child’s snoring is harmless, and even cute. But before dismissing it as a childhood quirk, you may want to rule out an underlying health problem — obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It’s common to hear about adults with sleep apnea, but it’s not as common for parents to suspect their child might have it. OSA affects 1-10 percent of children and can lead to serious health consequences without treatment.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that can stop one from breathing as a result of an obstructed airway. The stopped breathing can happen up to hundreds of times. As the oxygen levels decrease during sleep, the brain wakes up to start breathing again, usually accompanied by coughing or choking. The event happens so fast that most people don’t even know they wake up, or why they are unable to achieve a restful night of sleep. This can lead to serious tiredness during the day and other behavioral symptoms that can impact one’s quality of life. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to harmful health consequences.

Symptoms of OSA in Children

Children can present OSA symptoms during sleep and when awake. They may experience the following symptoms during sleep:

  • Snoring at least 3 times per week
  • Restless sleep
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Coughing, snorting or choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Bed-wetting
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Sleep terrors

Your child may experience these symptoms when they’re awake:

  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness
  • Poor school performance
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Learning problems
  • Behavioral problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor weight gain
  • Feeling cranky, moody or irritable
  • Speaking with a nasal sounding voice
  • Sleepiness including falling asleep during school or napping often
  • Morning headaches

If your child experiences any of the symptoms listed above, an appointment with their doctor might be in order.

Causes of OSA in Children

Some of the most common causes of OSA in children include:

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Obesity
  • Muscle tone problems, including muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy
  • Genetic syndromes including Down syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Abnormal face or throat structure
  • Prematurity
  • Problems with breathing control
  • Family history

Treatments for OSA in Children

The cause of your child’s sleep apnea will determine treatment. Children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids will need surgery to remove them. Overweight children may need to lose weight. Other children can benefit from special oral appliances to correct their jaw growth development and/or hold their airway open while they sleep.

The best way to determine the right treatment for your child is to visit your child’s doctor for a proper diagnosis. From there, they can recommend the best treatment options.

Prevention for Childhood OSA

Some OSA cases in children are due to incorrect jaw development. Fortunately, this is entirely preventable. Kuhn Dental Associates offers early preventive orthodontics that can correct jaw growth, expand the airway, make more room for teeth and the tongue to prevent crowded teeth, and reduce or eliminate TMJ symptoms.

Kuhn Dental Tackles Issues Around Childhood Snoring

Dr. Ritt Kuhn and Dr. Mandy Grimshaw

To start OSA prevention and early preventive orthodontics, Dr. Grimshaw recommends having children evaluated as young as 5 years old. If she finds any problems with your child’s jaw development, she will recommend early preventive orthodontics to correct the jaw development before it causes problems like OSA. They will also prevent crowded, gapped, crooked, and misaligned teeth. Following early preventive orthodontics, your child may not require traditional orthodontics. If they do require orthodontics, their treatment will be significantly less complicated and lengthy than without using preventive orthodontics first.

What Happens if My Child Doesn’t Get Treatment?

If your child doesn’t receive treatment for OSA, they can face serious health risks down the line such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and a general decline in their overall quality of life.

Contact Kuhn Dental Associates at 910-692-4450 to find out if early preventive orthodontics is right for your child.

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