Sleep apnea, as most people think of it, is a family of sleep disorders that are more properly grouped under the heading "sleep disordered breathing."
On occassion children may demonstrate adult symptoms such as:
In children, however, manifestations of sleep deprivation due to any cause, including sleep disordered breathing, is quite different from adults and includes:
With treatment to eliminate sleep apnea, these outcomes
can be reversed and your child can resume his or her
healthy and productive developmental years. Treatment of
sleep apnea also prevents the strain placed on the heart
and lungs by recurrent drops in oxygen and repeated
awakenings during the night, which can result in
hypertension and heart disease.
What types of sleep disordered breathing are seen in children?
The types of sleep disordered breathing most often found in children are:
The frequency of each disorder is dependent on the age of the child.
The only way to reliably distinguish simple snoring from obstructive sleep apnea is to undergo an overnight sleep study in a sleep laboratory. (The size of the tonsils does not distinguish the two.) A sleep study involves a series of "stick on" sensors that detect what stage of sleep your child is in, how well your child is breathing, and how hard your child is working to breathe. Based on the information collected from the sleep study it can be determined if your child has sleep disordered breathing and how severe it is.
What should I expect when my child sees a sleep doctor?
You should expect a thorough history and comprehensive physical examination to be performed by a physician specially trained in pediatric sleep medicine at an accredited sleep medicine fellowship program. This evaluation should not only focus on sleep disordered breathing but all sleep related disorders. The visit may involve an in-depth evaluation of your child's upper airway using a small flexible fiber optic endoscope. This is a small tube (about the size of a piece of spaghetti) with a camera and light on the end of it. Specific concerns should be explained and all of your questions should be answered to your satisfaction. If sleep disordered breathing is in question, a follow-up appointment for an overnight sleep study will be arranged. The facility should be "kid friendly" and provide arrangements for one family member to sleep in the same room as your child.