According to a recent study, more than half of parents believe that snoring signifies a good night's sleep. But pediatricians have a warning: Loud snoring can actually be the sign of a serious sleep disorder --- one that could put your child at risk for long-term health and behavioral problems.
Kelley Ortiz remembers the night she woke to the sounds of her daughter snoring.
"My husband snores pretty loud and she was giving him some competition!" Kelley said.
She also noticed her daughter, Jacqualynn, coughing and gasping for air.
"She was waking-up every two to three hours because she couldn't breathe," Kelley said.
Jacqualynn was experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing due to a blocked airway.
"When you're not breathing your oxygen level goes down," said Dr. Judith Owens of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "And even small dips in oxygen can cause problems, particularly to the developing brain."
To the surprise of many parents, childhood sleep apnea is extremely common. More cases are popping-up at sleep centers across the country, typically in children between the ages of two and six.
"One of the most important factors is enlarged tonsils and adenoids," said Dr. Owens.
But it also appears America's obesity epidemic is a major risk factor, too, for these young kids.
"When children are overweight, some of that weight is in the neck and the structures around the airway, and so it can have a compressive effect," said Dr. Merrill Wise of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that pediatricians regularly screen for the disorder and that parents learn the symptoms, including daytime symptoms.
"They may have problems regulating their behavior and they may have trouble with attention span, focus, concentration," Dr. Wise added.
In fact, Dr. Wise believes the condition is often confused with ADHD.
How is a sleep apnea diagnosis made? An overnight sleep study is the gold standard.
"The sleep study revealed that she had 90-percent blockage," Kelley Ortiz recalled of her daughter's test.
Treatment is often successful and can include removal of tonsils and adenoids, weight loss, and a special breathing machine known as a C-PAP.
"Adults with sleep apnea have a higher risk for hypertension, strokes, and other kinds of cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Owens. "And so we also worry that children who are left untreated may develop those longer term consequences."
After having her tonsils and adenoids removed, the difference for three-year-old Jacqualynn is night and day.
"She's cheerful. She's happy. She sleeps through the night," Kelley said, relieved.
Children who have sleep apnea also tend to sweat a lot at night. Experts say that's because they're working harder to breathe. If your child is showing signs of sleep apnea, it's important to call your pediatrician.
Also, more information about sleep apnea in kids is available by clicking here.
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