Understanding Sleep Apnea in Children: Risks & Signs

Sleep apnea, a condition often associated with adults, is increasingly being recognized in children. This sleep disorder, characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep, can have significant impacts on a child’s health and well-being. In this article, we delve into the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for sleep apnea in children, providing valuable insights for parents and caregivers.

What is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder that affects children’s respiratory patterns during sleep. Unlike adults, where obstructive sleep apnea is more common, children can experience different types of sleep apnea, including central, obstructive, and mixed apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children

  • Snoring or noisy breathing during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Restless sleep or sleeping in unusual positions
  • Daytime sleepiness or behavioral issues
  • Bedwetting
  • Attention deficit or learning problems

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

Several factors can contribute to sleep apnea in children:

  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  • Obesity
  • Allergies or sinus problems
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Certain medical conditions, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea in Children

If you suspect your child has sleep apnea, consult a pediatrician or a sleep specialist. Diagnosis typically involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and a sleep study (polysomnography), which monitors the child’s breathing, brain activity, and other physiological functions during sleep.

Treatment Options for Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Treatment for sleep apnea in children depends on the severity and underlying cause. Options include:

  • Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy: Surgical removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids is a common treatment.
  • Positive Airway Pressure Therapy: Continuous or bi-level positive airway pressure (CPAP or BiPAP) machines deliver air through a mask to keep the airway open.
  • Oral Appliances: In mild cases, specially designed dental devices can help keep the airway open.
  • Weight Management: For children with obesity, weight loss can improve or resolve sleep apnea.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Allergy management, proper sleep hygiene, and avoiding respiratory irritants can also help.

The Impact of Untreated Sleep Apnea in Children

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to various complications, including:

  • Growth and developmental problems
  • Behavioral and learning difficulties
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Decreased quality of life

Sleep apnea in children is a serious condition that requires attention and appropriate treatment. Early recognition and intervention can significantly improve a child’s health and development. If you notice signs of sleep apnea in your child, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice.


Q: Can infants have sleep apnea? A: Yes, infants can have sleep apnea, although it’s less common than in older children.

Q: Is sleep apnea in children always a cause for concern? A: Any signs of disrupted breathing during sleep should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Q: Can lifestyle changes alone treat sleep apnea in children? A: While lifestyle changes can help, they may not be sufficient for all cases. A healthcare provider can offer the best guidance.