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 Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

By Richard M. Tempero, M.D., Ph. D.

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Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition characterized by recurrent episodes of airway obstruction during sleep. Approximately 2‑3% of children the U.S. have this condition.

In children, obstructive sleep apnea is caused by large adenoids or tonsils, nasal obstruction, small jaw, large tongue, and syndromes associated with lower muscle tone. These children often snore and have apneic episodes, which are breathing pauses that may sound like choking or gasping for breath. During the day, a parent or teacher may notice changes in the child’s social or activity level, often considered hyperactive, and frequently poor school performance is identified.

In children, a strong history provided by parents is often adequate to establish the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep study may be done to provide additional information for medical decision making. Treatments can range from medical therapies such as a CPAP or BiPAP that provide continuous positive airway pressure to surgical procedures directed at anatomic regions of airway obstruction.

If you recognize symptoms of sleep apnea in your child, please seek medical advice from your child’s primary physician. In addition to the social issues associated with obstructive sleep apnea, we understand that many cardiopulmonary diseases, such as hypertension, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension are associated with this condition. By recognizing the symptoms early and maintaining regular checkups you can help prevent physical and social problems associated with long standing sleep apnea.