It's not uncommon for people to briefly stop breathing during sleep. But when it happens a lot, it's called sleep apnea. And it doesn't just affect adults.
Dr. Okan Elidemir is a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Nemours Children's Clinic. He says, "It happens in children, too, and quite frequently. This is a condition where the child blocks his or her airway during deep sleep."
Dr. Elidemir says sleep apnea can affect many children. Finding the cause is the key to proper treatment.
Dr. Elidemir: "In older children, obesity is a risk factor. And you know it's an epidemic thses days, so patients who are overweight tend to have sleep apnea more often."
In teenagers, look for signs like sleepiness through the day, a lethargic child, or decreased school performance. However younger children may react differently.
Dr. Elidemir: "In younger kids, failure to thrive is more frequently seen with sleep apnea, which means that they cannot gain weight because they do not get enough oxygen and they do not get enough rest."
Either way, the first step is to simply observe your child at night.
Dr. Elidemir: "The best way to understand for the families is to watch the child during sleep and see if their airway is blocked and their chest is moving up and down trying to get the air in, sometimes make gasping sounds."
Dr. Elidemir says recording the child while sleeping and showing it to their doctor can be a tremendous help.
If a child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, doctors may suggest removing the tonsils and adenoids to help open the airway.
Dr. Elidemir: "And it's more aplicable to pediatric patients. In adults, usually the first step would be to use the CPAP, but in children, to remove the obstruction is the first thing."
There may be other benefits to removing the tonsils as well. Allergies and asthma in children also can be affected.
Dr. Elidemir: "Allergies and asthma go hand in hand many of the times. So, together, if you have a child with allergies and asthma, them having enlarged tonsils and adenoids is more possible, and then having sleep apnea is more possible."
And, of course, if you think your child may have sleep apnea, have them checked by a doctor to make sure.
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