Medical Moment: Sleep apnea in kids

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 4:26 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Sleep is essential for helping kids recharge, but children with sleep apnea don’t get the rest they need.

The disorder can cause pauses in breathing that affect sleep quality and lead to daytime sleepiness, behavior issues, and more.

If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea. The main types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing, and complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most prevalent. Approximately three to seven percent of men and two through five percent of women have sleep apnea.

Worldwide, over 100 million people suffer from sleep apnea.

One in 50 kids will develop obstructive sleep apnea.

“If you look at the bottom third of a classroom in performance, over half those kids will have undiagnosed sleep apnea,” said Floyd Livingston, a pediatric pulmonologist at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Floyd Livingston says many kids with sleep apnea will be misdiagnosed as being hyperactive. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, as many as 25 percent of kids diagnosed with ADHD may actually have sleep apnea. And while most cases of sleep apnea in adults are caused by obesity, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are usually to blame in children. The condition most often affects kids between the ages of two and eight.

“That’s when kids are growing the fastest. So they’re increasing in height but their width is not increasing as quickly so their airway resistance goes up during that time,” Dr. Livingston said.

Some common symptoms to watch out for include snoring, gasping for breath, night sweats, bedwetting, sleepwalking, and choking during sleep. The good news is surgery to remove enlarged tonsils and adenoids can help kids find relief.

Other treatments include anti-inflammatory or antihistamine medicines, orthodontic devices, or a C-PAP machine. The important thing is to get treated so your child can rest easy.

Recent research has focused on the causes of sleep apnea to find new ways to treat it.

One new procedure works on the hypoglossal nerve that controls your tongue. A small device implanted in your chest senses when you start to breathe in during sleep. It stimulates your hypoglossal nerve, which pushes your tongue out to widen your airway.

People with sleep apnea who’ve had this procedure report less sleepiness and better quality of life afterward. A small number of people in the study had severe side effects, including bleeding and a heart attack.

In 2021, the FDA approved the first daytime device for treating mild sleep apnea. The eXciteOSA delivers a mild electrical pulse to the muscles of your tongue. People who used this device for 20 minutes a day over 6 weeks, and then once a week afterward, snored less and breathed more easily while they slept.

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