As adults, we may be very familiar with the diagnosis of OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea. After all, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that as many as 24 percent of men, and 9 percent of women suffer from the breathing difficulties of OSA, experiencing poor sleep, daytime tiredness, and a host of health problems that arise from regular sleep debt.

What we may not realize as adults is that kids also suffer from OSA, and for them, the consequences can be even more severe. Sleep is a crucial piece of learning, which is a child's most important job. Children, much like adults, can suffer serious consequences from untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

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•    Hyperactivity: Many children, unlike adults, will present has hyperactivity due to lack of adequate sleep or disrupted sleep. If a child is feeling sleepy during the day, he or she is likely to have significant degree of sleepiness and sleep apnea
•    High blood pressure: Much like adults, untreated sleep apnea, through the release of several inflammatory proteins every night, causes the blood vessels in the body to become stiffer, thicker, narrower and stickier, resulting in high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is one of the most significant risk factors for developing high blood pressure
•    Heart and cardiovascular disease: Changes in hearts of children have been demonstrated once the AHI (Apnea Hypopnea Index- the number of times a child has complete (apnea) or partial (hypopnea) obstructions per hour is greater than 10). For adults this is considered mild but for children it is considered severe sleep apnea. 
•    Increased risk of motor accidents: Teenagers are the highest risk of motor vehicle accidents and sleepy teens due to a variety of sleep problems, sleep apnea being one of the most significant, are high risk for motor accidents. 
•    Poor school performance: Sleep apnea results in poor attention, excessive sleepiness, hyperactivity and the negative impact on IQ of children (in some studies it was worse than the impact of exposure to lead). These factors and delay in getting up to go to school or missed school result in poor school performance, learning and even sports performance in children. 
•    Poor control of asthma, diabetes and epilepsy: Untreated sleep apnea, result sin poor control of asthma in children, poor control of blood sugar in diabetic children and can be a factor in inadequate control of epileptic seizures. 
•    Headaches: Children with sleep apnea, often report morning headaches
•    Depression: Sleep apnea is a significant risk factor in the development of depression in kids and adults
•    Behavioral problems: Kids with behavioral problems often have sleep apnea as an underlying factor causing or exacerbating the condition. 


So what should parents look for in their children? 

Regular snoring. No child should snore every night. Some kids snore during allergy flare-ups or illnesses, but snoring every night is a clear sign that something is wrong.

Bedwetting. If your child continues to wet the bed after age 5 or so, this can be a sign that something is off during their sleep.

Trouble in school, either with performance or behavior. Kids who have a chronic sleep debt have difficulty focusing, can be hyperactive, or can struggle to retain information. They can become aggressive. 

Concerns regarding ADHD or autism. In some cases, the daytime symptoms that result from OSA can make doctors look for ADHD or autism diagnoses. Treating sleep can minimize or entirely solve the concerning symptoms.

Regular difficulty waking up. Kids should be able to rise at their regular time without too much trouble. If every morning is a struggle to get out of bed, something is going wrong with sleep.

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to speak to a pediatric sleep specialist to get a complete sleep evaluation. The evaluation will give you information on how to proceed, whether your child's sleep is disturbed by OSA, or one of many other sleep disorders that can cause daytime symptoms.


Most children with OSA are treated with adenotonsillectomy, removing the tonsils and adenoids as the first step. However, it is important to remember that removal of adenoids and tonsils cures sleep apnea in children only about 55-60% of the time. Many kids, especially those who are overweight, have asthma or other co-morbid illnesses, can continue to have OSA and suffer from consequences. Therefore, it is important to have a follow-up with the sleep specialist after the surgery. Depending on the cause and severity of the sleep apnea, however, other methods of treatment may be available. These include anti-inflammatory medications, CPAP, oral appliance, maxillary expanders, and other surgical options. Call us today to make an appointment and start your child on their journey to a good night's sleep.