The relationship between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea is well-documented, and the impact on children is no exception. Over the past 10 years, the medical community has seen a growing number of children suffering from sleep disorders, and in many childhood sleep apnea cases, the disorder is tied to being overweight or obese.
Average and underweight children can also suffer from sleep apnea. In these cases, large tonsils and adenoids are generally the primary cause of OSA because they can relax during sleep and block the airflow to the lungs. Fortunately, 80 to 90% of such pediatric OSA cases are cured by surgically removing the tonsils and adenoids.
Curing sleep apnea in obese children can be much more complicated. Removing tonsils and adenoids helps in some cases, however many obese children may have to resort to wearing a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask during the night. Due to the fact that the mask can be awkward and uncomfortable, it is often difficult for children to wear. That being said, research has shown that wearing the mask for as little as 3 hours per night significantly improves overall sleep quality.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include: snoring loudly, pausing and gasping for air during the night, waking up startled, and having trouble staying awake and focused during the day. In children, sleep apnea can have a tremendous impact on their physical and social well-being, and can lead to behavioral problems and a poor academic performance. As Dr. Carole Marcus of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains: “The main message is that treatment, although it may be difficult to tolerate, can result in a significant improvement in childhood behavior symptoms and quality of life.”
If you think your child may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, consult your pediatrician about seeing a sleep specialist. MedSleep clinics now accept children and offer full assessment and treatment packages.
As a final thought for parents and pediatricians: Remember that the relationship between weight and sleep is a two-way street. Excess weight increases the likelihood that children will develop obstructive sleep apnea, and having sleep apnea increases the likelihood of gaining weight.