What Is Childhood Sleep Apnea?

Childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is a condition in which the air passage in the child’s throat becomes blocked during sleep. This potentially serious condition occurs in 1 to 3 percent of otherwise healthy preschool children. It is most prevalent in children ages 2 to 6, but can also strike infants and adolescents.

Patient history and physical examination alone cannot detect OSAS. However, observation while sleeping, or polysomnography, can play an important role in assessing the condition. Children with OSAS always snore and have difficulty breathing when sleeping. They sleep restlessly, may thrash about, and often sleep in unusual or contorted positions. However, these indicators alone are not absolutes. Many children who snore do so as a natural consequence of sleep and do not need treatment.

About 10% of children snore. Approximately 20-30% of snoring children have OSAS and it is very difficult to determine which of the snoring children actually have OSAS simply by examining the child's history and physical results. Any child that has daytime sleepiness may have OSAS. Sometimes, the daytime symptoms may be subtle, such as an unexplained change in behavior or decline in school performance. OSAS can also be a cause of poor growth. Any child who has poor growth or is not growing normally or has growth impairment, and has snoring, should be considered as a possible sleep apnea candidate.


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