What is different about children with OSA? Obstructive sleep apnea (also known as OSA) occurs when a person’s airway collapses during sleep. This causes snoring and interrupted breathing. In some cases, people stop breathing entirely, causing loud gasping or choking sounds as the person is roused from sleep. In many cases, the person with OSA wakes up briefly every few minutes due to lack of oxygen.

The most common symptom of OSA is excessive daytime drowsiness. Children with OSA often fall asleep easily and tend to nap frequently throughout the day. They also seem restless and fidgety. They may experience behavior changes and become forgetful.

In addition, children with OSA are prone to having temper tantrums, acting out and being impulsive. They may act stubbornly and refuse to follow directions. They may also be aggressive and have difficulty paying attention.

As a result, kids with obstructive sleep apnea are often labeled and diagnosed with conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, these diagnoses aren’t necessarily accurate. These behaviors might be caused by a lack of sleep. 

Children with OSA may exhibit the symptoms of ADD or ADHD but not actually have either disorder. Instead, their ADHD-like symptoms are caused by the sleep breathing disorder itself.

What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in the throat that prevents you from breathing properly while you sleep. The blockage can occur at any point along the upper airway. It can happen anywhere between your nose and your larynx (the part of your throat where your voice box is located).

Your tongue and soft palate are two areas that can cause an obstruction. These structures move forward during normal breathing, but if they get stuck together, it will prevent airflow through your mouth and nose.

Your tonsils and adenoids can also contribute to this problem. If they grow too large, they can press against your windpipe and make it difficult for you to breathe, causing sleep disruption. 

Other factors that can lead to OSA include:

  • A large neck circumference
  • Excessive fat around your neck
  • Large jaw size
  • Smaller-than-average head size
  • Obesity
  • Being male
  • Having a family history of OSA
  • Having had previous surgery on your face, including tonsillectomy to remove enlarged tonsils
  • Having a long uvula (a small flap of tissue hanging down from the back of your throat)
  • Having a short neck
  • Having a narrow airway
  • Having a high arched palate (the roof of your mouth)
  • Having a large tongue
  • Enlarged tonsils

How Does OSA Contribute to ADHD Diagnosis? 

Many doctors believe that children with OSA or other sleep disorders are more likely to develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder because they experience frequent interruptions in their sleep patterns. When they do awaken, they are tired and irritable. As a result, they may not pay close attention to what’s going on around them.

This makes it easy for doctors, teachers and parents to label them as having ADHD. The result is often medication and interventions that don’t work because the child does not actually have the behavioral condition they’ve been labeled as having. 

The Signs of OSA in Children

There are several signs that indicate that a child has OSA. The symptoms of sleep apnea in children include: 

  • Frequent snoring
  • Difficulty sleeping through the night/restless sleep
  • Nightmares/night terrors
  • Waking up many times during the night
  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Snorting sounds when trying to talk
  • Breathing pauses when waking up
  • Loud snoring
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Choking noises when swallowing
  • Sudden stops in breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Acting out
  • Not listening to instructions
  • Fidgeting
  • Playing with hands or feet
  • Staring off into space
  • Talking excessively
  • Getting angry easily
  • Crying
  • Mood disorders

Do Kids Outgrow Sleep Apnea? 

Yes, most children eventually outgrow their sleep apnea. This happens when the muscles in the throat relax and open up again. However, some people never fully recover from their sleep apnea. They continue to struggle with the same problems throughout adulthood.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Treatment options for sleep apnea include:

Weight loss. Losing weight helps reduce the amount of excess fat in your body, which reduces the amount of pressure on your airway.

Medications. You may be prescribed medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants and even pain relievers.

Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP). CPAP machines use positive air pressure to keep your airways open. Your doctor will fit you with a mask that goes over your nose and mouth while you sleep. It delivers a steady stream of air at a constant pressure.

Oral appliances. These devices help position your jaw properly so that your airway stays open.

Surgery. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend removing part of your soft palate or other parts of your upper airway.

If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing, call us today to schedule an appointment to discuss their symptoms and your concerns.