Dangers of Pediatric Sleep Apnea
Disturbed Breathing and Sleep Can Have Life-Long Consequences
Nothing is more basic to life than breathing. And for a child, sleep is particularly important. Sleep is critical to healthy development, and it helps them have the energy they need to deal with the challenging parts of their day, such as focusing on schoolwork or doing what they’re told when they’d much rather be doing something else. When these two aspects of a child’s life are disrupted, children can experience both immediate and long-term consequences. It’s important for the adults in their life to recognize the symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing and help children get the management they need to avoid complications.
Immediate and Long-Term Complications of Sleep Apnea
Just as with adults, children with sleep apnea experience both immediate problems related to their sleep apnea, as well as long-term complications that can follow them for life. Some of the recognizable immediate complications of sleep apnea include:
- Behavioral problems
- Learning difficulties
- Low mood and depression
These impacts occur each day as a child has difficulty sleeping at night. They might fluctuate somewhat, especially for children with relatively mild cases of sleep apnea.
Over the long-term, children can experience complications that affect and follow them for life:
- Dental problems
- Failure to thrive
- Obesity and diabetes
- Heart problems
- Premature death
These complications may take time to develop, and it can be hard for parents and people working with children to notice. Sometimes the problems aren’t detected until a child’s next doctor’s appointment. The degree to which children develop these severe life-long complications depends on their individual susceptibility and the severity of their sleep apnea.
Behavioral and Learning Complications of Sleep Apnea
Children who have sleep apnea never get a full night’s sleep, no matter how many hours they spend in bed at night. That’s because their sleep apnea causes them to wake up regularly during the night. They may wake dozens or even hundreds of times though neither you nor they may be aware of it.
You know what children can act like when they’re not getting enough sleep. They can be cranky, irritable, and may have difficulty focusing. This can make them act out at school and make it hard for them to learn.
At the same time, they may seem to have lost their childhood joy. They might not be interested in things they used to enjoy, or might like only the ones that take the least amount of energy.
Children with sleep apnea are often diagnosed with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because the symptoms are similar. However, children with sleep apnea respond either poorly or not at all to typical ADHD managements.
While these are immediate complications of sleep apnea, they can have long-term consequences. Children may fall behind in their school work, develop a reputation as a problem kid, and may form habits and coping mechanisms that will serve them poorly in life.
Long-Term Health Consequences
Orthodontic issues are commonly associated with pediatric sleep apnea. Healthy development of the teeth and jaws depends on proper positioning of the tongue resting in the upper arch. This is only possible with nasal breathing. Children with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to breathe through their mouth, contributing to poor jaw development and crooked or crowded teeth.
Sleep is necessary for a child’s proper growth and development. When their sleep is interrupted, their body may not be able to develop properly. They can fail to grow and mature as they should.
While a child may not become taller, they might put on weight. Obesity is one of the potential causes of pediatric sleep apnea, but it’s also a potential effect of it. Children who have sleep apnea are low-energy during the day, which means they have a hard time getting enough exercise. In addition, their hormones for appetite and energy use can be disrupted, making them more likely to want to eat, and more likely to store calories as fat. This creates a vicious cycle where obesity makes sleep apnea worse, which makes obesity worse.
Sleep apnea can strain the heart. Every time a child’s breathing stops, the heart works extra hard to try to pump what little oxygen there is to the body, and this leads to heart strain, high blood pressure, and long-term heart damage.
These complications can even lead to premature death for a child, either in childhood or as a young adult.
You Can Avoid These Complications
While these potential complications are serious, it’s important to remember that sleep apnea is manageable and that management can significantly reduce or even eliminate these risks.
To learn how management might help your child, please contact an ASAP Pathway dentist in your area today.