Everyone has brief pauses in their breathing pattern, which are usually normal. Sometimes though, there are longer pauses in breathing known as apnea. In children, such pauses may cause oxygen levels in the body to decrease temporarily and sleep will be disrupted. Nemours diagnoses and treats several types of apnea in children.
There are several different types of apnea in children:
Obstructive sleep apnea: The most common type of apnea in children is caused by a blockage of the airway (for example, by enlarged tonsils and adenoids). This is most likely to happen during sleep as the throat muscles relax.
Central apnea: When the part of the brain that controls breathing doesn't start or maintain the breathing process properly. This is most common in very premature infants in whom the brain’s respiratory center is immature.
Mixed apnea: A combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea in children is usually a sign of an immature breathing pattern. Mixed apnea may occur when a child is awake or asleep.
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The Nemours Children's Clinic in Orlando operates a Sleep Center where our team of experts in respiratory care and sleep medicine use state-of-the-art tools and tests to help diagnose sleep apnea in children as well as a range of children’s sleep-related problems.
How Apnea in Children is Diagnosed
Many cases of sleep apnea can be diagnosed based on your child’s symptoms and physical findings. However, some cases will require a sleep study. A sleep study (also called polysomnography) is an overnight study done in our sleep center during which the quantity, quality, and breathing patterns of your child’s sleep are measured.
How Apnea in Children is Treated
Treatment for sleep apnea depends on its cause. Medical conditions like nasal congestion and allergies may require medications. Overweight children may need to change their eating habits and become more active. Some kids, however, will require continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) during sleep. This treatment uses a nasal and/or mouth mask and forced air to send air into the air passages and lungs. In some cases surgery may be necessary to remove large tonsils and adenoid tissue that make your child’s breathing difficult.