If your child is a restless sleeper or stops breathing while sleeping for noticeable periods, they may have central sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea in children was once thought to be harmless and treated as a phase to be outgrown; new studies have shown that the impact of central sleep apnea in children can adversely affect their development.
If your infant has difficulty breathing while sleeping, it can also be fatal. You want to talk to your doctor as soon as you notice any problems with your child or infant breathing consistently when sleeping.
How is central sleep apnea different from obstructive?
The central version of this condition means that it originates from the brain stem not passing on the signal from the brain to the body to enable breathing.
In obstructive sleep apnea, there is an obstruction in the airway to breathing that can be alleviated with surgery.
While once thought to be rare in children, central sleep apnea is becoming more common as birth weights and childhood obesity rates continue to rise.
If the risk group is 40-year-old men, how does a child get it?
If you have looked up central sleep apnea then you know that the high-risk group for it is defined as “men over 40 who are overweight.”
That description doesn’t fit many children, so how can they be diagnosed with central sleep apnea?
While they may not be over 40, many children with this type of apnea are overweight.
They may also suffer from gastrointestinal issues and allergies that can duplicate some of the effects on the body that common chronic conditions produce in an adult.
Many of the recommendations for treatment will mirror those given to an adult with one important exception; children diagnosed with central sleep apnea may be prescribed a positive airway pressure device (PAP). That is uncommon in adults with the diagnosis.
Why would a child need a PAP and not an adult?
A child diagnosed with central sleep apnea will often be prescribed a PAP machine in order to make sure that their airways stay open and the process of breathing is uninterrupted.
Positive Airway Pressure machines usually involve the person remaining on their back while sleeping and wearing a mask.
The air is introduced through the mask and the pressure then keeps them breathing consistently.
For children that cannot wear a breathing mask, there are special machines that provide enough room pressure to promote breathing.
A child is more likely to be prescribed a PAP machine than an adult as a child’s body and the brain is not developed enough to withstand even a brief period of time without oxygen.
The PAP machine assures that they will always get what they need while other changes prescribed in the treatment plan are put in place.
It is important to understand that the use of a PAP machine is not meant as a permanent solution but to ensure the child’s safety while other treatment begins and takes effect.
The adult, who can withstand interrupted breathing better, doesn’t use a pressure machine during this transition.
What are the symptoms of central sleep apnea in children?
Just like in adults the one symptom of central sleep apnea in children that you won’t find is snoring – this is an indicator of obstructive problems.
With central sleep apnea, your child may be a “restless” sleeper, making sudden movement while asleep.
They may also wake up frequently, wake up frequently to go to the bathroom, experience an increase in digestive issues, be fatigued during the day, have headaches, catch colds and flu easily or become moody.
If your child is a toddler or younger, they may also be prone to crying and screaming for no understandable reason.
Won’t they just grow out of it?
The old school of thinking believed that if there was no obstruction in the airways that a child would “grow out” of this phase.
While it is true that many children will grow out of their central sleep apnea, the problems that central sleep apnea in children will cause before they do can have lasting physical, mental, emotional and developmental effects.
Potential complications of sleep apnea in children
Central sleep apnea in children can lead to a host of problems. It can create complications in the digestive system, reduce the strength of their immune system and cause mood swings that can develop into full disorders.
On a social and emotional level, the frequent need to urinate at night can lead some children to begin bed-wetting again. This can reduce their social development and cause anxiety too.
What to do?
If you suspect that your child is having problems breathing while they are sleeping you need to talk to your physician as soon as possible.
They will eliminate any potential other causes and then progress to diagnose which type of apnea your child has.
Depending on the type there are different types of treatment. For central sleep apnea in children, you will most likely be prescribed a PAP machine and changes in diet, exercise as well as the treatment of any aggravating conditions such as allergies.
You should not try to remedy the situation on your own as your child may need the temporary assistance of a positive pressure machine to keep them safe until an effective treatment is found.
Helping infants with central sleep apnea
Helping infants with sleep deprivation problems can be done easily and effectively.
While a positive air pressure machine is usually prescribed there are many different things you can do to improve their sleep hygiene to promote better sleep – such as making sure they are always in bed when they fall asleep, avoiding night time changes and not responding to every sound you hear while they are sleeping.
Finding out more
Central sleep apnea in children can be serious and even fatal. Don’t delay in talking with your pediatrician about any abnormalities you have noticed how your child sleeps and breathes at night.
Also, be sure to mention any daytime tiredness or mood swings so the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.