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Who Is At Risk For Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea & Is There A Blood Test For It?

Sleep apnea syndrome is often thought of as an adult disease, but it is also a disease that affects children. Not only during sleep but it also affects daily life-quality your child. Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder. It means that you stop breathing temporarily while you are sleeping, which causes various problems. Sleep apnea is found in about 3 to 7% of adult men and about 2 to 5% of adult women and is a common symptom of obese people after middle age as well as in children.(1)

Who Is At Risk For Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Some of the common risk factors for childhood obstructive sleep apnea:

In addition to obesity, other risk factors are:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Face or skull abnormalities
  • Having obstructive sleep apnea in the family
  • Low birth weight history
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Sickle cell disease(3)(4)
  • When a child has sleep apnea, a variety of symptoms appear not only during sleep but also in daily life.

The following obstructive sleep apnea symptoms are common:

  • Snoring
  • Breath stops for a few seconds
  • Sleeping is poor
  • Waking up with fatigue
  • Sternum collapses when inhaling

Obstructive sleep apnea symptoms in daily life:

  • Feeling a headache in the early morning
  • Restlessness
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Strong daytime sleepiness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Becoming aggressive, personality changes, etc.(5)

Is There A Blood Test For Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

There are no specific blood tests available to detect obstructive sleep apnea. This is because no specific blood test is needed to diagnose the disease. However, your doctor may prescribe a blood test to evaluate the cause of the sleep apnea, such as the presence of allergies or elevated levels of blood cells as an immune response.

Your doctor may call for a simplified home test to diagnose sleep apnea. These tests usually measure your airflow, levels of blood oxygen, breathing patterns, and heart rate. If the results are abnormal, your doctor may prescribe a therapy without further testing.

An assessment usually involves monitoring of the breathing and other functions of the body during sleep in a sleep center. Home sleep examinations may also be an option. Tests to identify sleep apnea are Home sleep tests and Nocturnal polysomnography.(6)

Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children

Treatment of sleep apnea syndrome mainly focuses on the cause. If the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are mild, changing the height of the pillow or lying down sideways can open the airway and improve the symptoms.

However, if the condition is still not improved or severe, treatments include:

Wearing A Mouthpiece Or Mouthguard: Mouthpieces are used to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea. If you fix your child’s lower jaw forward with the help of a mouthguard, breathing becomes easier. It is especially effective for children with a small lower jaw.

CPAP Therapy: CPAP therapy is a mode of positive pressure breathing therapy. When sleeping, the air is blown into the body through a mask attached to the nose to assist breathing during sleep. This treatment is widely used and is often used to treat sleep apnea caused by obesity.

Surgery: If hypertrophy of the pharyngeal or palatine tonsils is causing sleep apnea, they may be removed surgically.

Weight Loss: When obesity is the cause of sleep apnea, weight loss is an important treatment plan. The aim is to maintain a healthy weight for your child.(6)

In obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, the upper respiratory tract and the vicinity of the throat, which are the passages of air while breathing, are blocked for some reason resulting in apnea. Most sleep apnea syndrome in children is obstructive in nature.(1)(2) The main causes of obstruction of the throat are as follows:

Tonsillar Hypertrophy: If the pharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) at the top of the throat, the back of the nose, and the palatal tonsils on both sides of the throat become enlarged, they block the throat. It is one of the most common causes in children after the age of three.

Obesity: If your child becomes obese and accumulates a lot of fat around the neck and inside the throat, the upper respiratory tract of your child may become narrower. This can make difficult for air to pass through and can cause sleep apnea.

Decreased Muscle Tone: Chronic sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, psychotropic drugs, and other weaknesses in muscle tone can also cause obstructive sleep apnea. Care should be exercised in case of reduced muscle tone, as it can be caused by other illnesses.

A Smaller Lower Jaw And Large Tongue: If your child has a smaller lower jaw or the tongue is large, the tongue will not fit in the correct position and may block the upper respiratory tract causing sleep apnea.(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. 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.
  3. Huang Y-S, Guilleminault C, Lee L-A, Lin C-H, Hwang F-M. Treatment outcomes of adenotonsillectomy for children with obstructive sleep apnea: a prospective longitudinal study. Sleep. 2014;37(1):71-76.
  4. Rosen CL, Larkin EK, Kirchner HL, et al. Prevalence and risk factors for sleep-disordered breathing in 8-to 11-year-old children: association with race and prematurity. The Journal of pediatrics. 2003;142(4):383-389.
  5. Chan J, Edman JC, Koltai PJ. Obstructive sleep apnea in children. American family physician. 2004;69(5):1147-1154.
  6. Marcus CL, Brooks LJ, Ward SD, et al. Diagnosis and management of childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):e714-e755.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 3, 2021

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