Apnea in children commonly occurs during sleep.

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.

Read More About 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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Nemours Children's Hospital, Orlando

13535 Nemours Parkway
Orlando, FL 32827
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For Appointments: (407) 650-7715

Hours: Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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What to Bring

If you’ve made an appointment, please be sure to bring along the following items to help us check you in as efficiently as possible:

  • photo ID
  • medical and pharmacy insurance cards
  • preferred pharmacy name and phone number
  • names and dosage of all medications, including over-the-counter medication, your child is currently taking
  • guardianship and custody papers, if a legal guardian rather than a parent accompanies your child
  • any forms required for school, camp, sports, etc.
  • a list of prior immunizations
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The pediatric experts at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando are recognized as some of the nation’s best board-certified pediatricians and pulmonologists (lung doctors) who evaluate and treat disorders like apnea in children. In addition to working with highly skilled pediatric respiratory therapists, we partner with other pediatric specialists such as otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat, or “ENT”), neurologists and allergists/immunologists to give your child the healthy benefits of restful sleep.

And for your convenience, some of the same specialists your child sees at Nemours Children’s Hospital also offer appointments at our specialty care locations in downtown Orlando, Lake Mary and Melbourne.

Apnea in Children

Apnea is a disorder that occurs when breathing pauses during sleep one or more times a night. Apnea in children can affect daily mood and behavior, and can have long-term impact on cognitive functioning (the way your child thinks). Learning disabilities, hyperactivity and metabolic (growth and hormone) problems have also been linked to sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Pediatric Apnea
  • sleeping with mouth open and/or neck extended
  • loud snoring or breathing
  • bedwetting (enuresis)
  • restlessness during sleep
  • headaches and dry mouth upon waking
  • excessive daytime sleepiness

Causes of Apnea in Children

There are three types of apnea:

  • obstructive apnea: caused by an airway blockage due to enlarged adenoids or tonsils located in the back of the throat
  • central apnea: caused by the brain failing to send signals to “breathe” (most common in premature babies)
  • mixed apnea: a combination of obstructive and central apnea often caused by immature breathing

Some medical conditions can also cause apnea, such as:

  • allergies
  • craniofacial disorders (affecting the face and jaw)
  • Down syndrome
  • musculoskeletal disorders (cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy)
  • obesity

Learn About These and Other Children’s Health Topics at Nemours KidsHealth.org »

Our Coordinated Approach to Pediatric Apnea

Your child’s Nemours care team includes pulmonologists (lung doctors) and other specialists working together across departments to evaluate and treat apnea and related conditions.

Pediatric Specialists on Your Child’s Care Team

Depending on the condition, your child may see specialists such as:


Diagnosing Apnea in Children

At your child’s first visit, Nemours specialists will perform a thorough physical examination and take a detailed medical and sleep history. We may also gain additional information from family members, teachers and other care providers your child sees regularly.

For further evaluation, your care team might order an X-ray of the upper airway, or a number of non-invasive ambulatory (at-home) diagnostic tests using portable devices that record data while your child sleeps and/or during wakefulness. These may include:

  • actigraphy (monitors movement)
  • maintenance of wakefulness test, or MWT (measures brain and body activity)
  • measurement of daytime sleepiness, or Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT)
  • oximetry (monitors blood oxygen and heart rate)

If more information is needed, your child may participate in an overnight sleep study, or polysomnography, at our hospital’s pediatric sleep lab.

Learn More About Pediatric Sleep Medicine/Polysomnography at Nemours Children's Hospital »

Treating Apnea in Children

Once we understand what’s causing your child’s apnea, we’ll develop a treatment plan. And because you’re the most important member on your child’s health care team, we include you in all of the decisions because, after all, no one knows your child as well as you.

Depending on your child’s condition, we may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • medication therapy (to relieve nasal congestion and allergies)
  • better diet/nutrition and physical activity (to reduce weight)
  • continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP (pushes oxygen into the air passages and lungs via a nasal and/or mouth mask)
  • surgery (to remove large tonsils and adenoids that make it difficult to breathe)

The Nemours Commitment to Family-Centered Care

At Nemours, we recognize the importance of the family in the care and healing process. Because many of the children we see have chronic illnesses that require repeated visits, we build strong relationships with our families that foster respect, dignity and collaboration. We’re also committed to educating children and families about the medical condition, and how best to manage it. Our goal is to get your child back to the business of being a kid as quickly as possible.

Learn More About the Nemours Commitment to Family-Centered Care »