Sleep apnea is the cessation of breathing during sleep. In children, it is often caused by obstruction of the oral and nasal air passageways. One culprit is adenoids -- lumpy clusters of spongy tissue that help protect kids from getting sick by trapping harmful bacteria. The tissue often becomes puffy which in turn disrupts the free flow of air into the body, disturbing sleep. The tonsils can also obstruct air pathways in the same way. Collapsibility of the airway can also be caused by improper breathing, swallowing and posture. If nasal passages are blocked, unhealthy habits can be formed like snoring, which is one of the most prevalent signs for children who do suffer from sleep apnea.
The long term effects of consistent sleep obstruction can be devastating. Physical effects include: the increased incidence of upper respiratory infections, underdevelopment of the face and jaw, cardiovascular problems and delayed motor development skills. These physical symptoms may affect many aspects of the child’s life - especially in school. The sleepiness felt by children due to their apnea does not necessarily translate into lethargy. Rather, children display their tiredness with inappropriate, erratic behavior. Sleep apnea can also affect a child’s attention spans – limiting how long a child can focus on a task. These symptoms when played out in a school environment leave kids at a disadvantage, which in turn may affect their cognitive development.
All is not lost. Treatment is possible to prevent sleep apnea. Many of the issues that cause the condition can be solved with cause directed treatment. Surgery can alleviate problems caused by physical obstruction from adenoids and tonsils. Behavioral therapy can correct unhealthy sleeping habits. These include teaching proper breathing techniques, correcting swallowing techniques as well as improving posture. There are also special orthodontic devices that can be implemented to stimulate proper facial growth to support better breathing.