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How To Diagnose Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children & What Is The Best Medicine For It?

Like adults, children can also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disease. Therefore, it is a matter of serious concern for the child who suffers from it.

Sleep apnea causes interruptions in breathing during sleep which interfere with the patient’s comfort. It seems obstructive sleep apnea is not an uncommon problem, with 3% of the population of children suffering from it.

Apnea occurs when children are asleep causing partial or complete obstruction of the airways. This means they stop breathing at some point while sleeping. When this happens, the child often wakes up, and thus their sleep gets disrupted. It may also cause fatigue and promote sleeping during the day and odd hours.(1)

How To Diagnose Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children?

The doctor can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea in children based on the signs and symptoms. In addition, the child can also be referred to as a sleep disorder center.

There are sleep specialists, who may help decide on further evaluation and diagnostic processes for your child.

Sleep apnea diagnosis often involves monitoring the breath and other bodily functions throughout the night during sleep. Apart from this, testing the sleep pattern of your child at home is also considered a good option. There are also some tests to detect sleep apnea:

Nocturnal Polysomnography – In this test, the child is fitted with a device while sleeping. This device monitors the heart, brain, lungs, movement of the extremities, breathing patterns and oxygen levels in the blood during sleep.

Home Sleep Test – In some cases, doctors may provide the patient with some simple tests to check for sleep apnea, which can be done at home. These tests usually include heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns, etc. If someone has sleep apnea, the test results will find a falling oxygen level during sleep, which increases as your child wakes up.

If the results are abnormal, the doctor may prescribe therapy before performing any other evaluation. Portable monitoring devices are not able to detect all cases of sleep apnea. Therefore, doctors may recommend polysomnography even if initial results are normal.(3)

What Is The Best Medicine For Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Depending on what causes obstructive sleep apnea, the doctor will decide the correct treatment. For example, if obstructive sleep apnea is caused by obesity, the child will be given a specific diet to lose weight. If the problem is not due to overweight, then the doctor will consider other options.

Informing your child’s pediatrician about this will help begin treatment as soon as possible before other complications such as cardiovascular diseases emerge.

Common treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include:

Mouthguard: This is a device or oral appliance that keeps the jaw open by extending the jaw. It also prevents snoring.

Use Of CPAP (a machine to maintain a continuous positive airway pressure): This is a device which prevents the respiratory passage from collapsing at night. The child sleeps with a mask that is attached to a tube. This tube creates positive airway pressure.

Surgery: This is for more severe cases (although it is not often used).

All these options relieve the symptoms and allow children to enjoy quality sleep.

Remember, this problem can cause cardiovascular diseases and even sudden death. Hence the treatment is necessary for the beginning to prevent complications.(4)

Causes Of Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children

Adenotonsillar Hypertrophy: In this case the adenoid glands (tissues located in the upper part of the throat) are very large, reducing the air passage.

Obesity: Excess-fat can cause soft tissue to build up around the airways, causing it to become narrower, resulting in apnea.

Neuro-Muscular Disease: They are characterized by a decrease in muscle strength which can cause sleep apnea in children.(1)(2)

Signs And Symptoms Of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Now that you know of some reasons why children may suffer from sleep apnea; it is important to detect the signs and symptoms of this problem early. You should inform your child’s pediatrician about the following signs, which are often overlooked.

One of these signs may be snoring. Your children may sweat at night, sleepwalk or have night terrors for no apparent reason. These symptoms usually cause hyperactivity, headaches, and decreased concentration throughout the day.

Upon experiencing this problem, the child may have chronic fatigue and other sleep-related problems.

If your child tells you that he/she has woken up without breath or is afraid of sleeping due to this, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms discussed here.(3)


  1. Blechner M, Williamson AA. Consequences of obstructive sleep apnea in children. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care. 2016;46(1):19-26.
  2. Lin SC, Davey MJ, Horne RS, Nixon GM. Screening for obstructive sleep apnea in children with Down syndrome. The Journal of pediatrics. 2014;165(1):117-122.
  3. Alonso-Álvarez ML, Terán-Santos J, Carbajo EO, et al. Reliability of home respiratory polygraphy for the diagnosis of sleep apnea in children. Chest. 2015;147(4):1020-1028.
  4. Maris M, Verhulst S, Wojciechowski M, Van de Heyning P, Boudewyns A. Prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in children with Down syndrome. Sleep. 2016;39(3):699-704.

Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 6, 2021

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