Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a medical condition that involves breathing difficulties in children when they are asleep. When we fall asleep, our muscles relax. This includes muscles in the upper airway, which can become either partly or totally blocked by the adenoids and tonsils in sleeping children. You may notice snoring and pauses in your child’s breathing while they are asleep.

Snoring in children is quite common – about 15 to 20 per cent of children snore. OSA is less common and only affects about two to three per cent of children.

OSA disrupts sleep. Sometimes, the only problems that a child with OSA may show are difficulties with paying attention, tiredness in the day, general hyperactivity, behavioural problems and learning difficulties.

Here are some of the symptoms that children with OSA may exhibit:

  • Loud and persistent snoring
  • Gasps, snorts and pauses in breathing when sleeping
  • Abnormal sleeping positions
  • Listless, irritable, agitated and even aggressive
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Mouth breathing
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Sweat profusely during the night
  • Morning headaches
  • Nasal voice due to frequent blocked nose
  • Restless sleep
  • Bed-wetting (enuresis)
  • Issues with swallowing (due to enlarged tonsils)

What causes childhood OSA?

The most common cause of OSA in childhood is enlargement of the tonsils in the back of the throat, adenoids in the back of the nose, and turbinates (small bony structures) in the breathing passage. Tonsils and adenoids grow most quickly between the ages of two and seven years old. Having the tonsils and adenoids taken out cures OSA in 80–90 per cent of children. Sometimes, the adenoids grow back again. If the symptoms return, your child may need more surgery.

Other causes of OSA include:

  • obesity
  • long-term allergy or hay fever
  • certain medical conditions associated with weak muscles or low muscle tone, such as Down syndrome
  • very small jaws or flat faces in children.

How dentists can help

At Specialist Kids Dentists, we are trained to recognise sleep apnoea in children, and are in a vantage position to identify children with enlarged adenoids and tonsils. In many cases, Sleep Apnoea is caused by dental arches that are narrow, underdeveloped, or positioned too far back in the mouth. We work very closely with Sleep Specialist to ensure the correct diagnosis and best care for your child.

The sleep specialist may organise an overnight sleep study for your child. The study will monitor the child’s breathing, heartbeat, brain waves and body movements to provide a diagnosis. The sleep specialists will review the records of the study, also known as a polysomnograph, and determine whether your child has sleep apnoea, primary snoring or other issues. They would also be able to prescribe an appropriate treatment if and when necessary.

If you suspect that your child may have OSA symptoms, Contact Specialist Kids Dentist today to schedule your consultation appointment, and make the first step towards a healthier physical and emotional future for your child. We look forward to hearing from you!