The symptoms of pauses in breathing, restlessness in the bed, chronic mouth breathing during sleep, night sweats. All these, and especially snoring, are possible signs of sleep apnea, which is commoner among children than is generally recognized. It's estimated than 1 to 4 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, many of them being between 2 and 8 years old.
Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a general term for breathing difficulties occurring during sleep. SDB can range from frequent loud snoring to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) a condition involving repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the airway during sleep. When a childs breathing is disrupted during sleep, the body perceives this as a choking phenomenon. The heart rate slows, blood pressure rises, the brain is aroused, and sleep is disrupted. Oxygen levels in the blood can also drop.
The most prominent symptom of sleep disordered breathing is loud snoring that is present. The snoring can be interrupted by complete blockage of breathing with gasping associated with awakenings from sleep. Due to a lack of good quality sleep, a child with sleep disordered breathing may be irritable, sleepy during the day, or have difficulty concentrating in school. Busy or hyperactive behavior may also be observed. Bed-wetting is also frequently seen in children with sleep apnea.
A common physical cause of airway narrowing contributing to Sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Overweight children are also at increased risk for sleep apnea because fat deposits around the neck and throat can also narrow the airway. Children with abnormalities involving the lower jaw or tongue or neuromuscular deficits such or cerebral palsy have a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. As in adults, polysomnography is the only tool for definitive diagnosis and assessment of the severity of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea.