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Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea in Children

Sleep apnea can be summarized as a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops throughout sleep. As mentioned in our previous post, “Different Types of Sleep Apnea Treatments,” an estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. While this is a more common disorder seen in adults, children can also experience its symptoms. Sleep apnea in children is known as Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea. 

What is Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is when there is a complete or partial obstruction (narrowing or blockage) of the upper airway during sleep. This sleep disorder may look very different from a typical adult, so it is important to know what to look for. Up to 10% of children show signs, which we explore later on in this post. The most common cause of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is an enlargement of the adenoids, which are the patch of tissue high up in the throat behind the nose. This disorder can lead to many complications, including children’s growth, behavioral & learning issues, cognitive development, and more. Let’s explore what to be on the lookout for and when to seek treatment.

Signs & Symptoms

The most common sign of sleep apnea in adults is snoring. While snoring may be a symptom for your little one, infants and young children, do not always snore with obstructive sleep apnea. Disturbed sleep is much more common, which can be more challenging to detect. Some signs of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea include but are not limited to: 

  • Pauses in breathing
  • restless sleep
  • mouth breathing
  • bed-wetting
  • behavioral issues while awake
  • night sweats
  • snoring
  • night terrors


As with any medical condition, it is important to determine the root cause before exploring any treatment options. In many children’s cases, the condition will resolve itself on its own as they grow. A child’s sinuses and airways are not fully matured, so treatment may not be necessary. If you notice major issues in your child’s health and behavior related to interrupted sleep, you should see a local ENT near you and explore the next steps. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to very serious complications, not limited to death, so even though issues could potentially resolve themselves, symptoms should not be ignored.

Your local ENT will first do a visual evaluation of the neck, adenoids, and mouth, and tongue. Depending on the child’s age, your ENT may conduct further testing to rule out other conditions such as nasal polyps, septal deviation, nasolacrimal cysts, etc. Depending on the ENT’s findings, there are a few different treatment options available, including but not limited to: 

Removal of tonsils and adenoids.

If your child’s issue is an enlargement of the adenoids, an ENT may recommend removing them, which can open up the airway and improve the obstruction. 

Medication Management

Certain nasal steroids or allergy medications can ease symptoms of minor cases of obstructive sleep apnea. 

Positive Airway Pressure Therapy

When medication management or adenoid removal does not prove effective, an ENT may recommend positive airway pressure therapy. This is a small machine that blows air through a mask and tube worn by your child. The device sends air to the back of the child’s throat to keep the airway open while they sleep.

Dental Devices

An ENT can use certain dental devices or oral appliances to minimize sleep apnea symptoms by expanding the palate and nasal passages. This will not be effective for all children. 

If you believe your child may be suffering from pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, be on the lookout for the symptoms mentioned in this post and schedule an appointment with Camellia ENT today.

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