It’s hard enough for preschoolers to get a good night’s sleep. The small task of getting them into bed on time every night often becomes a big feat. A good night’s sleep is even harder to come by when a child has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when the upper airway becomes blocked due to tissues collapsing, making it hard to get consistent breaths. In children between the ages of three and six, it is more common because they have larger tonsils and adenoids, and smaller airways. Children who have OSA have trouble getting oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
Dr. Sherri Katz is a pediatric respirologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa (CHEO). She sees children who are dealing with all kinds of breathing problems, including OSA. “In the general population, about one to three percent of children have sleep apnea and among the high risk groups, like those who are obese, it can be 10 to 20 times higher,”says Dr. Katz.
OSA is not something that is easy to detect. The most obvious symptoms are snoring and pauses in breathing that last more than 10 seconds. “A child is trying to breathe but not getting any air in following a gasp at the end,” says Dr. Katz.
For parents who think that their child may have OSA, they should look out for common symptoms. However, Dr. Katz says, “It’s important to emphasize that not all kids who snore have OSA.”
The most common treatment for OSA is surgery. “Since we know it’s going to fix the OSA, the most common procedure is to have their adenoids or tonsils removed,” says Dr. Katz. Even children as young as three can have the operation to ensure they are breathing properly while sleeping. Some children are treated with a special mask to help keep the airway open.
Children with OSA who are obese can strive to get more exercise and change their eating habits to help improve their sleeping patterns.
Concerned parents can request a polysomnogram, a test that monitors the child overnight and measures how the body functions during sleep. However, there are only certain facilities in Canada that provide the test. CHEO is one of them, but the wait list is six months to a year. This is indicative of the number of children who possibly have OSA, as well as the limited number of specialized clinics that are able to offer the overnight test.
If you don’t have time to wait for the test, the Canadian Lung Association suggests videotaping your child sleeping and bringing it in to your doctor.
The Canadian Lung Association recommends keeping an eye – and ear – out for these symptoms:
- noisy breathing while sleeping
- gasping for air
- restless sleep and sleeping in strange positions
- daytime sleepiness
- attention problems/hyperactivity
- problems in school
Published in June, 2011.