How to Manage Obstructive Sleep Apnoea in Children

Sleep apnoea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Your doctor will review your child’s symptoms and medical history and conduct a physical exam. He or she might order several tests to diagnose the condition.

Tests might include:

  • Oximetry. If doctors strongly suspect obstructive sleep apnoea, and a full overnight sleep study has not been done, then an overnight recording of oxygen levels might help make the diagnosis. Oximetry can be done at home. Sometimes, the method fails to give a conclusive diagnosis, in which case your child will still need to have a polysomnogram, see below.
  • Polysomnogram. Doctors evaluate your child’s condition during an overnight sleep study. This test uses sensors applied to the body to record brain wave activity, breathing patterns, snoring, oxygen levels, heart rate and muscle activity while your child sleeps.

Manage Obstructive Sleep Apnoea in Children

Paediatric Sleep Apnoea Treatment

Your doctor will work with you to find the most suitable treatment for your child’s sleep apnoea. This treatment can also include the following:

  • Medications. Topical nasal steroids can help ease sleep apnoea symptoms for some children with mild obstructive sleep apnoea.  For children with allergies, Singulair might help relieve symptoms when used on its own, or with nasal steroids.
  • Tonsils and adenoids. Your doctor might refer your child to a paediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to discuss removing the tonsils and adenoids. An adenotonsillectomy may well improve obstructive sleep apnoea by opening up the airway. Other forms of upper airway surgery might be recommended, based on the child’s condition.
  • Oral appliances. Oral appliances, such as dental devices or mouthpieces, move your child’s bottom jaw and tongue forward to keep your child’s upper airway open. Many specialists have experience developing oral appliances to treat sleep apnoea. Bear in mind though, only a few children benefit from the use of such devices.
  • Avoid potential irritants and allergens. All children, but especially those with paediatric obstructive sleep apnoea, should avoid tobacco smoke or other indoor allergens or pollutants, as they can cause airway irritation and congestion.
  • Weight loss. Doctors may recommend that your child lose weight if he or she is obese. Your doctor can provide you and your child with diet and nutrition information, or refer your child to other specialists with expertise in managing obesity.

How to Treat Sleep Apnoea in Infants

The treatment depends on the severity and type of sleep apnoea Some infants will need surgery, but most will outgrow it as they get bigger and their upper airway gets larger.

Others may need to be treated with oxygen to provide breathing support until they can outgrow it. If the infant is four months of age or less and their sleep pattern is less-predictive.

We recommend they wear a nasal cannula at all times. If the infant is older and has established a sleep pattern, then parents can take off the nasal cannula when they’re awake.

The treatment ultimately depends on the nature of the medical problem, but the sooner the problem is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated.

Sleep Apnoea in Children Using a Natural Treatment

Maintain a healthy weight

Doctors commonly recommend people with sleep apnoea to lose weight. Obesity in the upper body, can increase the risk of airway obstruction and narrow the nasal passages.  Weight loss for those with obesity can eliminate the need for upper airway surgery or long-term therapy.


Regular exercise can increase your energy level, strengthen your heart, and improve sleep apnoea. Yoga can improve your respiratory strength and encourage oxygen flow.

Sleep position

Though a small change, altering your sleep position can reduce sleep apnoea symptoms and improve your night’s rest. A recent study found that more than half of obstructive sleep apnoea cases are dependent on position.  Sleeping on your back can worsen symptoms. It can increase your snoring and block your airways.

Use a humidifier

Humidifiers are devices that add moisture to the air.  Dry air can irritate the body and the respiratory system. Using a humidifier can open your airways, decrease congestion, and encourage clearer breathing.

Avoid alcohol and smoking

Lifestyle changes can improve your health and encourage better sleeping habits. Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake to reduce sleep apnoea.  Always discuss your options with your doctor before pursuing alternative treatments.  If your symptoms begin to get worse, seek immediate medical attention.

Sleep Apnoea and Toddler Behaviour

Toddlers who have sleep apnoea are more likely to develop behavioural problems than children who breathe normally while asleep.

To demonstrate, 11,000 children enrolled in a United Kingdom study.  After looking at the results for six years, researchers found that kids with breathing problems during sleep were at least 40 percent more likely to develop behavioural problems, such as aggression and hyperactivity, by the age of 7.

Breathing problems that occur during sleep include frequent snoring, open-mouthed breathing and sleep apnoea.  Parents and paediatricians are wise to pay closer attention to night time breathing issues in young children, perhaps as early as the first year of life.

Generally, breathing problems are most common in children between 2 and 6 years old, but can also occur in younger children.

Common causes of the breathing problems are enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which are found in the upper part of the throat. Other causes include obesity, skull and facial deformities, and an inability of the brain to control breathing.

An increased risk of behaviour problems

In the UK study, mentioned earlier.  They compared 5,000 normal breathing children with about 6,000 children who had breathing problems during their sleep.

Parents were asked to note down their children’s sleeping patterns from the time the children were 6 months old until they were almost 6 years old.

When their children reached the age of 4, and later at the age of 7, parents completed a questionnaire designed to measure five types of behaviour, including hyperactivity, anxiety and depression and relationship problems.

Sleep apnoea is certainly not something to be taken lightly.  Especially is this the case, with children.  This could impact their whole lives and also that of their parents.  Sleep well.

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