Sleep apnea in children is a very serious matter. There are many risks that go along with an undiagnosed case leading to learning, developmental and behavioral problems. In some of the more rare cases, children have shown signs of stunted growth, heart problems, and high blood pressure. One of the primary symptoms associated with childhood sleep apnea is an excessive amount of daytime sleepiness, a symptom that can lead to numerous other complications like unproductive days at school and relationship problems with fellow students and friends. Most times the child is unaware of these symptoms, but a cautious parent is well aware of it.
A Sleep Study known as a polysomnography (PSG) is used to help the sleep doctor to determine if sleep apnea is present. The PSG comes in two varieties with one being an overnight study in a lab and a take home study. Both tests measure brain waves, muscle tension, respiration, oxygen levels in the blood, eye movement, and audio monitoring. During the take home test, a certified sleep technologist would hook up electrodes at the lab and sent the patient home with a portable study unit. The patient would then return the next morning to have the technologist remove the electrodes and score the study. Both tests are painless to the patient and lean more towards a simple annoyance towards the patient, if anything.
There are a couple of ways that the sleep apnea is treated in children. In some cases the removal of the tonsils or adenoids can be one way of correcting the child’s sleep apnea. In cases where removal of the tonsils is not effective, the child’s sleep doctor may prescribe a CPAP machine. Under the doctor’s care, he/she will prescribe a specific pressure for the machine to provide a continuous amount of air pressure into the child’s airway. A CPAP works by blowing air through the nose and sometimes the mouth as well; by way of a mask for the purpose of trying to keep the airway open and prevent it from becoming blocked. Once the doctor has prescribed a set pressure, a durable medical equipment provider will come out to the home of the child and set-up the machine and teach the parents and child how to use and care for the machine.
There are quite a few clues that parents should look out for in their children outside of excessive daytime sleeping. For example, snoring is a big give away, tossing and turning in their sleep, and even unusual amounts of sweating during sleep. More examples include severe bedwetting, chest retraction, morning headaches, excessive irritability, and hyper active behavior. As with all medical conditions, it is best to take notes of your observations and consult with your family doctor to help determine if a sleep apnea test is a proper course of action for your child. Letting a case of sleep apnea go unchecked can have dire consequences down the line and should be avoided if there is a sliver of doubt. Please check with your family or sleep doctor if you think that your child may have sleep apnea.