By: Dr Vijay Verma
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition when a person’s upper airway is partially or completely obstructed during sleep. Although typically associated with adults, OSA can also affect children. In fact, the prevalence of this condition in children is estimated to range from 1 to 10 percent, with snoring being a common symptom observed in 3 to 12 percent of children. This occurs in children when the airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, resulting in breathing difficulties and interrupted sleep patterns and can have serious consequences on a child’s health, including behavioural issues, learning difficulties, and cardiovascular problems.
It is important to recognize and address this in children because it can have significant negative effects on their health and development. Children if left untreated may experience behavioural problems, difficulty with attention and learning, poor academic performance, and even developmental delays. Additionally, it has been associated with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The most common symptom in children is snoring, but other symptoms can include mouth breathing, restless sleep, and frequent waking during the night. Children may also exhibit behavioural problems such as hyperactivity, irritability, and aggressiveness. In some cases, children may exhibit bed wetting or have difficulty awakening in the morning.
Some of the common causes that elevate the risk in children include enlarged adenoids or tonsils, obesity, craniofacial abnormalities, and neuro-muscular disorders. Children with a family history of OSA or a personal history of premature birth may also be at increased risk.
Treatments in children can vary depending on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, lifestyle changes such as weight loss, avoiding certain foods and drinks, and sleeping on one’s side can help reduce symptoms.
Medical treatment – Usually in most of the cases, medical intervention may be necessary which may include nasal spray before bed time, which can efficiently help the kids.
Surgical intervention – Surgery may also be an option for children with severe OSA. The most common surgical procedure in children is adenotonsillectomy, which involves removing the tonsils and adenoids to improve airway flow. Other surgical options may include nasal surgery to remove obstructions or correct a deviated septum.
OSA in children can have serious consequences on their health, and it is important to seek medical attention if symptoms are present. As the specialist can help determine the best course of treatment. Early recognition and treatment in children can improve their quality of life and prevent future health problems. (The author is a Consultant- Allergy & ENT specialist, Ck Birla Hospital Gurugram)