When most of us picture the loud snorer, it’s likely the classic profile of an overweight, middle-age man sleeping soundly on his back, breathing through his mouth. This is also the image many people associate with obstructive sleep apnea. Now, imagine that same loud snoring coming from your adorable cherub-like child. Could this also be obstructive sleep apnea?

Although recent data indicates that as many as 1 in 5 adults may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, it is estimated that this condition also affects about 3% of the pediatric population. While snoring and excess weight are universal risk factors for OSA, there are some risk factors and symptoms that are more common in children.

Tonsils and adenoids are made up of lymph tissue and are located in the upper airway (the back of the throat). Tonsils and Adenoids play a role in helping to fight infection, and in young children, they often become enlarged and interfere with breathing.

At night time, the combination of relaxed throat muscles and enlarged tonsils and adenoids may narrow the airway, making it difficult for the child to breathe air from the nose and mouth into the lungs. Air that does move through the narrowed airway causes snoring sounds. If the airway becomes completely blocked, the child may experience episodes of apneas (not breathing). The child’s brain will stop the apneas and the child may choke or gasp as breathing starts again. Each time this happens, the child partially awakens and sleep is disturbed. In addition, apneas cause oxygen levels to drop in the blood, which if untreated, may lead to other health conditions later in life.

Children who are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea may have the following symptoms:
• Hyperextension of the neck during sleep – this position makes it easier for the child to breathe when the airway is narrowed or blocked
• Mouth breathing – if enlarged adenoids are blocking the back of the nose, the child may be able to breathe only through their mouth
• Restless sleep
• Irritability during the day
• Difficulty awakening in the morning or from naps
• Daytime hyperactivity, from poor quality sleep

In addition to the immediate effects of poor quality sleep, research in the field of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea suggests untreated OSA may also be linked to slow growth, ADHD and bedwetting.

If you think your snoring child could be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor about having your child evaluated.