About Sleep Apnea
Brief pauses in breathing during sleep are normal. But when breathing stops often or for longer periods, it's called sleep apnea.
When someone has sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the body may fall and sleep can be disrupted. You might think that only older people have sleep apnea, but kids and teens can develop it, too.
Sleep apnea happens when a person stops breathing during sleep ("apnea" comes from a Greek word meaning "without wind"). It is usually caused by something obstructing, or blocking, the upper airway. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA is common, serious conditions that can make kids miss out on healthy, restful sleep. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to learning, behavior, growth, and heart problems. In very rare cases, it can even be life threatening.
Less commonly, sleep apnea can happen when someone doesn't get enough oxygen during sleep because the brain doesn't send signals to the muscles that control breathing. This is called central sleep apnea. Developmental abnormalities or neurologic diagnoses that aﬀect the brain increase the risk of developing this type of apnea.
When we sleep, our muscles relax. This includes the muscles in the back of the throat that help keep the airway open. In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), these muscles can relax too much and collapse the airway, making it hard to breathe.
This is especially true if someone has enlarged tonsils or enlarged adenoids (germ-ﬁghting tissues at the back of the nasal cavity), which can block the airway during sleep. In fact, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common cause of OSA in kids.
Risk factors for the development of OSA include:
- A family history of obstructive sleep apnea
- Being overweight
- Certain medical conditions, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy
- Defects in the structures of the mouth, jaw, or throat that can narrow the airway
- A large neck (17 inches or more in circumference for men; 16 inches for women)
- A large tongue, which can fall back and block the airway during sleep
We're here to help.
If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staﬀ, please call our oﬃces at 682-303-1300.