There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common than central sleep apnea. Oftentimes, children who have obstructive sleep apnea will also develop central sleep apnea.
A potentially dangerous sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a child repeatedly stops breathing while sleeping. The breathing stops because the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway while he or she is asleep. The child will usually stop breathing for about 10 to 20 seconds at a time. This pattern can repeat itself many times per hour all night long, causing sleep fragmentation or changes in the blood oxygen or carbon dioxide levels.
Central sleep apnea occurs when a child’s brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This condition may also occur as a result of another condition such as heart failure or stroke.
The most notable symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is frequent loud snoring that disturbs a child’s sleep or the sleep of others. Other symptoms of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea include:
Doctors at Riley at IU Health use a combination of tests to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, including:
Children with obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from a surgical procedure such as tonsil and adenoid removal. Children who have already had surgery or are not surgical candidates may be treated with a device that keeps the airway open during sleep or with a mouthpiece that thrusts the jaw forward during sleep. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is one such device that is used to treat sleep apnea. There are some other lifestyle modifications that may be used to treat mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea, including:
If your child has pure central sleep apnea, he or she will likely need to be seen by a pediatric pulmonologist or sleep medicine specialist. Treatment for this condition may include treating existing conditions, using a device to assist breathing during sleep, using supplemental oxygen or taking medicines that have been shown to improve breathing in individuals with central sleep apnea. Surgery is generally not used to treat central sleep apnea.
Check out these trusted websites for more information and support for sleep apnea.
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The Ear, Nose & Throat Department at Riley at IU Health is currently conducting research on sleep apnea in children. Ask your child's doctor for more information about this research, including any opportunities to participate in a clinical study or trial.