You almost expect your spouse to snore at some point in your life, right? But do you expect to hear sound-barrier breaking snoring coming from your child’s bedroom? Probably not. Statistics show that about 10% of children snore at some point during the night. Snoring occurs during sleep when your child is breathing and there is some blockage of air passing through the back of the mouth. The opening and closing of your child’s air passage causes a vibration of the tissues in the throat and the loudness of the snore is impacted by how much air passes through and how fast the throat tissue is vibrating.
Children, three years old or older tend to snore during the deeper stages of sleep. Primary snoring is defined as snoring that is not associated with more serious problems such as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), frequent arousals from sleep, or inability of the lungs to breathe in sufficient oxygen.
About one to three percent of children not only snore, but also suffer from breathing problems during their sleep. When snoring is accompanied by gasps or pauses in breathing, the child may have OSAS. As in adults, children’s muscles relax during sleep, but they can become so relaxed that the airway is narrowed or obstructed and sufficient air cannot pass through. This interferes with breathing, causing a pause in breathing that can last only a few seconds or as long as a minute. The brain is then alerted and signals the body to make an effort to start breathing again. This effort results in the child gasping or snorting, waking up and starting to breathe again. These repeated breaks in quality sleep could cause your child to be sleepy or overtired during the day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children be screened for snoring and that a diagnosis be conducted to determine if a child is experiencing normal primary snoring or obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Loud and regular nightly snoring is often abnormal in otherwise healthy children and could be a sign of a respiratory infection, a stuffy nose or allergy; other times it may be a symptom of sleep apnea.
Contributing factors to sleep apnea may be obesity, allergies, asthma, GERD (gastroenterological reflux disorder), an abnormality in the physical structure of the face or jaw as well as medical and neurological conditions. In children, the most common physical problem associated with sleep apnea is large tonsils. Young children’s tonsils are quite large in comparison to the throat, peaking at five to seven years of age. Swollen tonsils can block the airway, making it difficult to breathe and could signify apnea. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 263,000 children in the U.S. have tonsillectomies each year and sleep apnea is a major reason.
A child suffering from sleep apnea may experience the following symptoms:
- Loud snoring on a regular basis
- Have pauses, gasps, and snorts and actually stop breathing. The snorts or gasps may waken them and disrupt their sleep.
- Be restless or sleep in abnormal positions with their head in unusual positions.
- Sweat heavily during sleep.
The daytime effects of sleep apnea in children may manifest themselves in ways such as:
- Experiencing behavioral, school and social problems
- Being difficult to wake up
- The child suffering headaches during the day, but especially in the morning
- Your child being irritable, agitated, aggressive, and cranky
- Being so tired during the day that they fall asleep or daydream
- Speaking with a nasal voice and breathe regularly through the mouth
If you think that your child might have any of the above symptoms, you want to speak with your doctor who may refer you to a sleep specialist and/or an overnight sleep study. This study will record the child’s sleep, brain waves, body movements, heartbeat, breathing, arousals and noises to determine a diagnosis. Sleep specialists have special training in sleep medicine and can help to determine if your child has primary snoring, sleep apnea or another problem. They can then offer you the most appropriate treatment.
Information courtesy National Sleep Foundation.