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Children's Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome was described more than a century ago. However, obstructive sleep apnea in children was first described in the 1970’s. It is a common but under-diagnosed condition in children that may ultimately lead to substantial morbidity if left untreated. The mechanisms of obstruction, its effects, and recommended treatment options are different in children from those in adults.

The following stories are about two different children with sleep apnea. Caleb began snoring when he was two years old. His parents eventually noticed that they would hear him gasping for air between snores. Matthew was a nine year old child who was significantly overweight. His parents tried to get him to exercise and play outside, but walking to the park made him so tired that he did not want to play. His mother commented to his doctor that Matthew snored louder than her grandfather. Both these children were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, both children had different conditions that caused their OSA. Caleb had his tonsils removed by a surgeon and Matthew was treated with a CPAP machine for children. Today, both children are thriving and Matthew has been able to lose his excess weight.

There is no age criteria to look for in children who have sleep apnea. It can occur in children of all ages including infancy. Obesity may play a role in some cases, however airway obstruction is usually related to tonsils and adenoids. Children with some types of neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and cerebral palsy may also have a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea may contribute to daytime fatigue and behavioral problems at school. When children have a night of poor sleep, they are more likely to be hyperactive and have difficulty paying attention. They may be incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD and be prescribed drugs. Growth hormones are produced during sleep and some children will be underdeveloped due to a lack of hormone production. Other children may become obese because leptin, an appetite suppressant, is not produced and overeating occurs even when enough food has been eaten.

Dr. Jim is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. It is very important to your child’s health to have him/her seen by a professional with experience in dealing with sleep apnea. Again, OSA must be diagnosed by a medical physician. Dr. Donley is trained in providing the proper dental appliance for mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Sleeping Child

Children's Sleep Apnea

It is estimated that 3-4% of children have sleep apnea. It may or may not resemble adult sleep apnea.

Nighttime Symptoms

  • Loud, nightly snoring
  • Respiratory pauses, snorts, gasps, choking
  • Increased breathing effort
  • Restless sleep
  • Sweating
  • Unusual sleeping positions (neck hyperextended)
  • Bed wetting
  • Daytime

    Daytime Symptoms

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Complaints of daytime sleepiness
  • Hyperactivity, poor impulse control
  • Aggressiveness
  • Attention span problems
  • Shyness/social withdrawl
  • Learning problems
  • School failure
  • Sleep Disorder


  • Outside normal growth percentiles
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Allergy shiners, nose congestions, ear problems
  • Mouth breating
  • Under developed lower jaw
  • Large tonsils
  • Children Playing

    Treatment Options

  • Expansion appliance to prevent sleep apnea
  • Mandibular Advancement Device (Oral Appliance)
  • CPAP
  • Weight loss
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Positional therapy
  • Allergy management

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