Is Pediatric Sleep Apnea Affecting Your Child?

Written by Dr. DeAngelis

As a parent, you’re prepared to worry about your child’s wellbeing, but pediatric sleep apnea probably wasn’t on the shortlist of problems you expected to tackle. 


Unfortunately, research shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in children is emerging as a prevalent condition with dangers that extend well into adulthood. Up to 4% of children between the ages of two and eight suffer from sleep apnea, and there’s no guarantee of “growing out of” this disorder. 


Since pediatric sleep apnea manifests itself at night, it’s important to understand the symptoms of this dangerous disease and how to get your child the treatment she needs. 

What Is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

The most common type of pediatric sleep apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), causes frequent interruptions to your child’s breathing while she sleeps. These pauses in breathing sometimes last ten seconds or more, during which time your child’s body becomes deprived of oxygen. 


When the brain becomes aware of the oxygen deprivation, it triggers the body to rouse from sleep long enough to gasp, choke, or snort for more air.  This process keeps your child alive and reopens her airways, but the problem begins again as soon as she falls back asleep. Many people with sleep apnea experience this cycle up to 30 times per hour, all night long! 


Though most children with sleep apnea don’t remember briefly waking to cough and gasp for air, the disruptions occur so frequently that they make it nearly impossible to achieve deep, restful sleep. 

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect children and adults alike but for different reasons. Obstructive sleep apnea usually develops in children as a result of enlarged tonsils and/or overly relaxed throat muscles. When the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much, the tonsils, tongue, and sidewalls of the throat come together and create very narrow airways. This issue is exacerbated in children with enlarged tonsils. 


As a result, children with OSA can’t get enough air when they breathe in their sleep. The body’s instinct is to cough and gasp for oxygen and attempt to return to sleep, but the problem occurs over and over again until morning. 

Does My Child Have Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

Pediatric sleep apnea isn’t easy to immediately identify since most symptoms occur while your child is sleeping. However, children suffering from poor quality of sleep at night also demonstrate symptoms during the day. The trick is to understand the message those symptoms are trying to send. 


If you notice any of the following changes or behaviors in your child, pediatric sleep apnea could be the cause:

  • Bedwetting
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavior problems
  • Night terrors
  • Restless sleeping

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

If you’re concerned that your child is suffering from sleep apnea, consult your doctor and request a sleep study. This painless and risk-free evaluation assesses your child’s behavior while she sleeps. Doctors collect data such as eye movements, heart rate, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, snoring, and body movements. 


If the sleep study confirms the diagnosis of sleep apnea, you can seek treatment right away.  

The Best Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea isn’t a condition that you can ignore and simply hope disappears. Some children grow out of pediatric sleep apnea, but others carry the disorder into adulthood, where it poses the threat of diabetes, heart disease, and other severe complications. 

Children with sleep apnea can be treated using a few different methods. 


CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine)

The CPAP is the most common sleep apnea treatment device. It streams humidified air through the nose to create enough air pressure and keep the throat open while you sleep. This supports steady, uninterrupted breathing without any pauses.

Since the CPAP supports the ability to breathe evenly all night, it helps you achieve a full night of restful sleep. Studies by Johns Hopkins show that patients who don’t wear their CPAP devices experience a significant spike in blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones overnight compared to patients who diligently wear their CPAPs. 



If enlarged tonsils are the root cause of your child’s pediatric sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a standard tonsillectomy to remove the tonsils. In many cases, this is all that’s needed to resolve sleep apnea entirely. 


Dental Devices

If your child has mild to moderate sleep apnea that can’t be resolved with a tonsillectomy alone, you can also turn to your dentist for help. CPAP machines are sometimes difficult to use or uncomfortable to wear, so your child’s dentist can provide a mandibular repositioning dental appliance or tongue retaining appliance to bring your jaw forward and stop your tongue from blocking your airway. Many children feel more comfortable wearing these dental devices than CPAP.


This is exactly why Dr. DeAngelis fits her pediatric sleep apnea patients with the dental devices best suited to meet their needs. You deserve personalized and compassionate care as you combat your sleep apnea, so call (760) 444-5507 to ask for Dr. DeAngelis’ help today. 


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