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11:07 AM

Does my child have sleep apnea?

The Doc Smitty looks at snoring and sleep apnea

“She sounds like a freight train coming down the hall.”

“He snores just like his daddy.”

Are these things that you have said about your child? If so, you may want to ask your doctor if your child might have sleep apnea. Because pediatricians often forget to ask about snoring during checkups, it is not uncommon for the diagnosis of sleep apnea to be significantly delayed or even missed altogether.

It is probably more common than you think. I spoke with Natalie Roberge, M.D., an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor with Cook Children’s, who estimates that obstructive sleep apnea occurs in 1-5 percent of children.

Snoring alone does not make the diagnosis of sleep apnea. Here are some of the other symptoms that could be present:

1. Pauses in breathing. (If your child snores, it might be worth listening to them occasionally to see if you hear these).

2. Bed-wetting.

3. Mouth breathing (at night or during the day).

4. Daytime sleepiness.

After discussing symptoms and examining your child, the doctor may recommend a sleep study. During a sleep study, a child will be observed for many different characteristics of their sleep including: apnea, excessive movement and level of oxygen in the blood during sleep.

There are many causes of sleep apnea but according to Dr. Roberge, “The most common cause in children is large tonsils and adenoids. The next most common, potentially treatable cause is obesity. Other causes include craniofacial, genetic and neurologic disorders.” If your child has any of these risk factors, it is important to pay closer attention to his or her snoring and quality of sleep.

Sleep apnea is treated differently depending on the cause of the apnea. If large tonsils are the problem, the pediatrician and ENT might recommend having them removed. If the child is obese, addressing healthy lifestyle and decreasing excess weight may help to improve the apnea.

It is important to address apnea for many reasons. You can find many different conditions associated with sleep apnea such as bed-wetting, ADHD and other behavioral problems, as well as hypertension and other cardiovascular problems. The consequences of untreated sleep apnea can be missed because they are common in many children.

Despite the fact that it might be fun to tease your child about his or her snoring, it is important that we consider the serious consequences of snoring and sleep apnea. If you have questions, please discuss them with your pediatrician and they can recommend a referral to an ENT if it is necessary.

About our sleep lab

The staff in our Ear, Nose and Throat Center collaborates with other specialties within Cook Children's system to treat and rehabilitate children with speech and hearing disorders. At Cook Children's, we can diagnose and treat many ear, nose and throat conditions. Our expert pediatric specialists have access to many services within Cook Children's system to provide your child with the best care.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joined Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.