Sleep apnoea is a common disorder where a person’s breathing stops and starts during sleep, interrupting the breathing process.
Sleep apnoea is a common disorder where a person’s breathing stops and starts during sleep, with pauses lasting from 10 seconds or longer and interrupting the breathing process many times an hour. This is due to an obstruction to the upper airway and can reduce blood flow to the brain.
Is sleep apnoea different in children than adults?
There are three types: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common and can range from mild to severe, causing long-term health issues such as high blood pressure and heart failure.
Sleep apnoea can affect anyone, including children (generally around three to six years), although as people age it becomes more likely, due to the loss of muscle tone in the throat.
Your child might have sleep apnoea if they’re…
Struggling to breathe during sleep
Breathing through their mouth
Sounding like they can’t get air in, making gasping or choking noises
Sleeping restlessly (insomnia)
Often blocked up and sound muffled (perhaps even during the day)
Waking with a dry mouth or sore throat
Tired and cranky during the day
Having headaches in the morning
Listless and lethargic – can’t concentrate
Not eating well
Experiencing behavioural issues (watch for kids having problems at school)
What causes sleep apnoea in children?
There are three main reasons:
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids (the glands in the throat just behind the nose) can obstruct their airway. Your child may need to get them removed by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Certain facial characteristics can affect the upper airway. They may have been born with a small jaw, receding chin, cleft palate or have a narrowed airway due to excess tissue in the throat or slackened muscles not opening the mouth effectively.
Overweight children run a higher risk of sleep-breathing issues, as excess fat around the upper airway and in the neck may press on the throat muscles when they’re relaxed during sleep.
Where can parents get help?
Often, your dentist may be the one to pick up that your child may have a sleep-related breathing disorder, simply because they may see them more regularly for check-ups than your GP.
If your child shows several of the symptoms above and you’re worried, talk to our dentist or oral health therapist. You may need a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist for a full diagnosis and possibly an overnight sleep study.
After evaluation, children with mild sleep apnoea may benefit from a dental sleeping solution, such as an oral appliance. Similar to a mouthguard, this is custom-fitted to their mouth and is designed to move the mandible forward, opening the airway space behind the tongue and improving breathing.