As with adults, toddlers are also affected by the condition of sleep apnea, which results in oxygen levels dropping whilst asleep. You will find below noticeable signs of sleep apnea in toddlers and which symptoms to look out for as well as what are the suggested treatments.
Sleep apnea differs from snoring, although 10-20% of children who snore have sleep apnea. Signs associated with sleep apnea in toddlers include distressed snoring, bedwetting, and slowed growth, while treatment may involve nasal steroids.
What is Sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that happens when you stop breathing while you sleep.
There are two types of Pediatric sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
A child with obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in the back of the throat or nose. Snoring is more noticeable since there is an airway obstruction.
The central sleep apnea happens when the part of the brain responsible for breathing doesn’t send the breathing muscles normal signals to breathe.
Sleep apnea: toddler symptoms
The main sign that a toddler is suffering from sleep apnea is when he or she has abnormally long pauses in breathing. It is important to understand that mild snoring from time to time (especially when a child has a cold) is perfectly normal.
In Baby & Toddler Sleep Solutions For Dummies, Lavin & Glaser highlight the following potential symptoms and warning signs for sleep apnea:
- very loud snoring
- snoring every night
- snoring in every position (mild snoring usually stops when tots roll over)
- thrashing during snoring (looking hungry for air)
- snoring causing child to wake up
- new/reactivated bed-wetting (sleep apnea can increase urine production)
- sleep shortage – overly tired, irritable, moody
- attention deficit (5%+ of attention deficit actually have sleep apnea)
- slowed growth
Sleep apnea and snoring
Alternatives to sleep apnea may relate to snoring, which can be down to a child being overweight, having a heavy cold, or suffering from allergies. As it is quite difficult to know whether a child has a problem with snoring or is suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep study also known as polysomnogram is able to identify between the two.
Treatment for sleep apnea in toddlers
If one is concerned that a child is snoring in a distressed manner or has identified some of the above potential warning signs, make an appointment to see the family doctor or a paediatrician. Lavin & Glaser identify that treatment for children who have been diagnosed as suffering from sleep apnea will typically include one of the following:
- nasal steroids (nose spray)
- surgery for constructive sleep apnea to remove tonsils
- surgery for constructive sleep apnea to remove tonsils and adenoids
Until the 1980s, the most common form of sleep apnea treatment involved undergoing a tracheostomy. This is an invasive procedure, which thankfully these days is now only used as a last resort. Another form of treatment involves using a C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a device used to keep the airways open when the child is asleep.
As highlighted above, potential symptoms associated with sleep apnea in toddlers include distressed snoring and sleep shortage. Sleep apnea may be distinguished from snoring through attending a sleep clinic, while treatment typically involves nasal steroids and surgery to remove tonsils.