Children and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

children can have sleep apnea

If you read our last blog post on the link between temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you might have been surprised to learn that, like adults, children suffer from TMD. Also like adults, children suffer from snoring and OSA, with 1% to 5% of children reported to have OSA.1

There are many reasons that children have OSA. The most common reason is enlarged adenoids and tonsils, which narrow the airway. Other conditions cause the airway to collapse more easily, including inflammatory diseases such as asthma, and allergies or hay fever. One other important factor in childhood OSA is obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in both children and adolescents. OSA occurs in up to 60% of obese children.

There are significant consequences to childhood OSA, the most common being impaired neurocognitive development, poor academic performance, and behaviour problems. In terms of behaviour, there is considerable overlap between the symptoms of attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and OSA. Even children with mild OSA, who snore on a regular basis, have shown hyperactivity, and concentration and attention problems. Pediatric OSA has also been linked with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and bedwetting.

Nighttime symptoms of OSA include snoring, gasping for breath, restless sleep, mouth breathing, and apneas, meaning your child temporarily stops breathing. Daytime symptoms are usually non-specific but can include hyperactivity, concentration and behaviour problems, difficulty learning, moodiness, and excessive sleepiness. Taken together with the nighttime symptoms, these can alert your dentist or physician to check for OSA. The standard test for OSA is an overnight sleep study — a polysomnograph (PSG) — done in a monitored sleep clinic.

Treatment is available for pediatric OSA. If you suspect your child might have OSA, please talk to your dentist or doctor.

  1. Dehlink E, Tan HL. Update on paediatric obstructive sleep apnoea. J Thorac Dis 2016;8:224-35.