Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleeping disorder with which a person has pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing when they sleep. Those pauses can last up to 10 seconds and they can happen more than once during the night. Usually, this state is followed by a loud snoring, or in worse cases choking or snorting sounds. When a child suffers from this disorder, it may lead to hyperactivity or attention issues.
Forms of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea has 3 forms:
- Obstructive (OSA)
- Central (CSA)
- Combination of OSA and CSA
The most common form of it is OSA. Here, breathing pauses happen because of the blocked airflow, and it is caused by being overweight, allergies, enlarged tonsils or if someone in your family had this condition. If a person has a low muscle tone and an enlarged soft tissue around the airway (which is the case with overweight people), suffers from diabetes or smokes, they have a big risk of getting OSA. The symptoms are loud snoring, sleepiness during the day and restless sleeps.
CSA on the other hand, is a condition where the breathing pauses happen due to a lack of effort to breathe. The respiratory controls in person’s brain are imbalanced while the person sleeps. The levels of carbon dioxide in your blood increases and the neurological feedback mechanism which monitors this area doesn’t react quickly enough. Also, the basic neurological controls for breathing rate „forget“ to signalize you to inhale which causes missing of one or more breathing cycles. If the oxygen percentage gets on a lower level than normal (hypoxaemia) and carbon dioxide builds up to a higher level than normal (hypercapnia), the body experience some additional effects like brain damage (because our brain cells need a constant flow of oxygen to function properly).
Important fact is that people are usually unaware that they suffer from this disorder, and it can be diagnosed by an overnight sleep study. A person needs to have more than 5 breathing stops during an hour in order to diagnose sleep apnea.
How to recognize it
You need to take time to observe your child while it’s sleeping. Note if he/she has any of these symptoms during the night sleep:
- Loud snoring
- Has pauses in breathing, gasp, snort, and sometimes stops breathing completely which disrupts their sleep
- Sleeps in an abnormal position or keeps his/hers head in an unusual position
- Sweats really heavy during sleep
Think, during daytime, does your child:
- Have social, school or behavioral problems?
- Find it difficult to wake up in the morning?
- Have morning and daytime headaches?
- Behave aggressive and cranky?
- Often gets sleepy during the day and falls asleep or daydreams?
- Speak with nasal voice or breathes through the mouth?
If the answer is yes, you might want to consider some professional testing, and make sure that you talk to your doctor about this.
How to treat it
Luckily, there are many ways for treating sleep apnea:
This device is made for treating Obstructive sleep apnea and it is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, or CPAP device. It is one of the most successful ways to treat it. A patient wears a face or nasal mask while they sleep. This mask is connected to a pump which provides a positive air flow through nasal passages in order to open up the airway and to keep it that way. If you are from Australia, you can find CPAP devices here.
If a CPAP treatment wasn’t helpful, then your only option is a surgery. Don’t worry, it is a small, routine procedure.
Sometimes, the biggest problems are the nasal passages, and this procedure corrects those passages which improves the nasal airway.
Tonsillectomy and Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3) are treatments which, combined together, address the pharyngeal obstruction. The excess soft palate tissue is removed which causes airways to open. The remaining tissue gets stiffer during the healing process.
This procedure involves application of rhythmic electrical impulses to person’s diaphragm which causes her lungs to suck the air into them (inspiration) when they are stimulated, and when they are not stimulated the diaphragm relaxes and air goes out (expiration).