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Sleep apnoea is a condition that causes interruptions in breathing during sleep. It often affects adults, but up to 1 in 30 children are affected too. The effects of sleep apnoea can be serious, so it is important to see a doctor if you think that your child is affected. It can also be helpful to understand the causes of sleep apnoea in children as you can take steps to address some of them.
One of the most common causes of sleep apnoea in children is obesity. Excess weight can put more pressure on your child’s airway when they are sleeping. It can increase the risk that the airway will collapse, interrupting your child’s breathing. Although it’s not easy, it is possible to take steps to address obesity in children. Changing your eating habits at home and encouraging children to be more active will make a difference. Once your child reaches a healthy weight, the sleep apnoea symptoms will often go away.
Another common cause of sleep apnoea in children is having enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system and they can swell when they’re active during infections. The effects are usually temporary, but if your child’s tonsils or adenoids are often enlarged then it can cause problems such as sleep apnoea.
Children can also be at higher risk of sleep apnoea if they have conditions that affect their breathing or respiratory systems, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, neuromuscular disease, or abnormalities in their airways. Children who were born prematurely, had a low birth weight, or have a family history of sleep apnoea are also more likely to be affected.
If you think that your child might have sleep apnoea then it is important to see a doctor. Sleep apnoea can have a serious impact on sleep quality, so it can leave your child feeling irritable and unable to concentrate at school. It can also affect a child’s growth and development. In severe cases, sleep apnoea can also be linked to heart problems or could even be fatal.
The doctor can confirm whether your child has sleep apnoea and advise you on the treatment options. If your child is overweight then it is recommended to make some lifestyle changes to improve their health. Other treatment options include medication to ease the symptoms and oral appliances (such as mouthpieces) or CPAP machines to keep the airways open. In some cases, surgery can help to open up the airways, for example by removing large tonsils or adenoids. With the right treatment, children can enjoy better quality sleep and avoid the complications associated with sleep apnoea.