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Pediatric sleep apnea problems are serious conditions if left untreated

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Basically, this occurs when muscles in the back of the throat are unable to keep the throat open, despite efforts to breathe, resulting in an airway blockage that causes sufferers to wake up, sometimes hundreds of times each night.

Both this fragmented sleep and the lowered levels of oxygen in the blood caused by the sporadic suffocation can result in serious health complications if left untreated.

Detecting apnea in a child can be difficult. Snoring is a sign of loose muscles at the back of the neck, but does not necessarily indicate apnea. Choking sounds while sleeping, however, is a serious indicator. During the day, symptoms may include irritability, aggressiveness, daydreaming, hyperactivity, and difficulty waking up.

Wynne Chen, MD, who specializes in pediatric OSA at Valley Medical Center, says 10 to 12 percent of children snore regularly. “Although this snoring is often just an annoyance to family members who sleep near the child, it can be the sign of a serious problem.”

According to Chen, the most common cause of OSA in otherwise healthy children is enlargement of the adenoids or tonsils. Their removal can be an effective treatment, curing 75 to 100 percent of patients. Other treatments include dental and orthodontic interventions and the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, worn at night.

The Sleep Center at Valley Medical Center evaluates and treats adults and children with sleep disorders and sleep-related problems. The Sleep Center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which means it meets the most rigorous of standards and ranks as a Center of Excellence in the comprehensive management of sleep disorders.

If you and your primary care physician are concerned that a child may be suffering from a sleep disorder, an overnight study in a sleep lab is required. The Sleep Center has special bedrooms for children and parents are encouraged to stay and be a part of the process.

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