Snoring in children is a common event, with estimates placing it at about 12-15%. Most of these children are healthy, show no symptoms and have primary snoring. Snoring happens during sleep due to a blockage of air when breathing as it passes thru the back of the mouth. The loudness is affected by how much air passes thru and how fast the throat tissue is vibrating. Snoring can be due to an upper respiratory infection, allergies, or it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Infants and toddlers spend over half of their lives sleeping and by adolescence, greater than 1/3 of their lives are spent sleeping. Quality sleep is essential for proper development and daily functioning. Proper sleep helps with learning, consolidating memories, physical growth, recharging your body and helping our bodies fight infections.

Approximately 2-3% of children have OSA which occurs when the posterior air collapses and blocks the throat. Frequent pauses in breathing, lasting from several seconds to a minute, often lead to the brain briefly waking up and causing us to breathe. This leads to gasping or snorting, waking us up and re-breathing. This can occur all thru the night.

Interrupted sleep can lead to behavioral issues, problems with social function, poor school performance, and poor growth. These children are also more likely to be hyperactive and have trouble paying attention in school, mimicking signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Studies also show that children with OSA are at risk of developing heart and lung problems which can lead to serious consequences later in life if it goes undetected. Untreated OSA, in the short term, often leads to daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability, bed wetting, and mouth breathing. The risk of apnea is higher in overweight children.

Other signs might include large tonsils and/or adenoids with frequent mouth breathing, restless sleep or sleep in abnormal positions, sleep in elevated position or with neck extended, excessive sweating during sleep, nasal speech, poor weight gain or being overweight, and high blood pressure. Even primary snoring (i.e. snoring without breathing pauses, frequent arousals, or drips in oxygen levels), which was once thought to be normal, still can lead to problems in school performance or behavior issues.

If you suspect your child may have symptoms of OSA don’t assume their snoring will go away on its own. Talk to your child’s doctor. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized this as a serious problem and has published recent guidelines for screening of obstructive sleep apnea, which will help doctors recognize, diagnose, and treat children with OSA.

By Dr. Michael Danter, Esse Health Pediatrician