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10/23/23 blog post

when to be concerned about sleep apnea

child sleeping restlessly

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Most parents will encounter sleep issues with their child at some point during childhood—trouble falling asleep, getting up throughout the night, bed wetting-sound familiar? But there’s another condition that may be impacting your child’s sleep that is talked about less often, sleep apnea.

We sat down with Dr. Ravi Elluru, MD, chief of pediatric ENT at Dayton Children’s, to learn more about the signs of sleep apnea, how to treat the condition and when to be concerned.

what are the signs or symptoms of sleep apnea? 

Sleep apnea is defined as problems with breathing while you sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea, include:

  • Significant snoring and mouth breathing while asleep
  • Restless while sleeping (so much so that you may find them sleeping in strange positions in the morning)
  • Pauses in their sleep followed by a deep gasp or breath
  • Tired during the day and can easily fall asleep in the car on a short car ride
  • Hyperactivity and decreased focus during the daytime

what is the difference between sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing? 

Sleep apnea or abnormalities of breathing during sleep can fall into two different categories. The first is central sleep apnea in which the brain on occasion forgets to tell the lungs to take a breath. This is rare and sometimes occurs in premature infants and children with anomalies of brain development. 

The more common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which is defined as the airway becoming blocked off intermittently throughout the night while asleep. Sleep-related breathing disorder is the diagnosis based on symptoms and obstructive sleep apnea is the diagnosis based on a sleep study.  A sleep study is not always required to diagnose sleep apnea but can help us manage children with complex medical conditions.

when should a parent be concerned about sleep apnea? 

Parents should be concerned when the child does not seem to sleep well throughout the night, which in turn seems to affect the child’s state of well-being during the daytime. Sleep apnea can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn affects the daytime neurocognitive abilities (focus and attention). 

what is the treatment for sleep apnea?

If sleep apnea is thought to be caused by obstruction of the airway intermittently throughout the night, the treatment is to alleviate this obstruction. The most common cause of obstruction is large tonsils and adenoids. So, by removing this tissue, sleep apnea can be alleviated in most cases. Non-surgical options include positive airway pressure (CPAP) at night, but most children have difficulty in using these devices consistently.

If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea, take our 30-second quiz to find out. If it is recommended that your child be seen by a specialist in ENT, you can schedule an appointment online with a Dayton Children’s pediatric ENT provider.

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Ravindhra G. Elluru, MD, PhD

division chief ear nose and throat (ENT)
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