While many children do snore on occasion, if they have a cold, an allergy, a respiratory infection or simply a stuffy nose etc., and while it is abnormal for children to have loud and regular snoring, especially if the are otherwise healthy, up to ten percent of children actually actually do snore every night, just as some adults do.
These children often have no visible symptoms and aren’t overweight, a common cause for adults who snore, and are otherwise healthy.
The most common health problem in children that causes snoring is enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
The tonsils are at the top of the throat (pharynx) and adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth (soft palate), neither are visible to the naked eye and doctors need to use special instruments. Both are a useful part of the body as they help to defend against germs and fight infection.
Common reasons for the enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent infections such as ear aches, colds and sore throats, etc., and can cause significant breathing problems as well as snoring.
For children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids the symptoms are mild and appear over time. The symptoms include mouth breathing and snoring during sleep, a nasal sounding voice, a sore throat, difficulty in swallowing, a persistently blocked or runny nose, or and earache.
An examination by your doctor and an examination of the back of the throat will reveal enlarged tonsils covered by a white film as well as enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
Fortunately this type of snoring is known a “Primary Snoring” and is the non serious form of snoring.
However, it is estimated that 1 -2 percent of children have obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), and just as sleep apnea is serious for adults, it is equally serious for children.
How can you tell if your child is primary snorer or is suffering from sleep apnea?
If your child has a normal sleep pattern, goes to bed at 8 or 9 and sleeps through till 6, 7 or 8 the next day, but does snore, then your child is a “primary” snorer.
Now if your child has a disrupted sleep pattern along with short pauses, snorts and gasps during the night, then is sleepy during the day and is having problems at school with a short attention span, troubles following direction, etc., then they have OSAS.
Their symptoms, while similar to those above, also include being overweight, frequent mouth breathing accompanied by a hypo nasal speech, frequent sore throats (because of breathing through their mouth all night), even waking up with headaches, and possibly being irritable and aggressive. Signs of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also be present.
Sleep apnea in children can also be associated with cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, having troubles gaining weight and delayed growth.
If you suspect your child has sleep apnea, speak with your child’s doctor, after talking with and doing some tests they will refer you to a sleep specialist and further tests can be performed on them which include an overnight sleep study at a hospital.
Other tests are available as well, but your child’s pediatrician is the place to start.
If it is determined a child has sleep apnea, treatment options can include the removal of adenoids and tonsils, via a tonsillectomy, if enlarged tonsils and the adenoids are determined to be contributory factors. A child may have their allergies treated or help can be given to them lose weight if required. Those children who are unable to have surgery may benefit CPAP therapy via a nasal mask.
If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, they are likely to be treated by a specialist, a Pulmonologist or a neurologist. It is important to make enquires about their experience with dealing with these types of problems as they may not give them the importance they require.
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