Difficulty breathing during sleep can cause significant medical problems and decrease your overall lifespan. Learn about the risks of snoring and sleep apnea, the signs and symptoms and sleep apnea treatments for children and adults.
Sleep-disordered breathing is a descriptive term for breathing difficulties during sleep. It can range from snoring to a more advanced form of disruption called Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing several times an hour during sleep causing fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea and though it is very difficult to estimate the prevalence of childhood OSA because of widely varying monitoring techniques, it’s estimated that upwards of as many as 20% of children are also afflicted.
How Important is My Sleep?
Sleep plays a vital role in our daily lives. Without good sleep, people report feeling tired, sluggish, underperforming at school or work, feel more stressed and interact more irritable with family and friends.
In addition to the issues above, which are bad enough, did you know that lack of restorative sleep produces significant medical consequences as well? Studies have shown that people with sleep problems are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Sleep-related disorders have been linked to seven times as many car accidents, one-third of them being fatal. Sleep disturbance also decreases overall lifespan, irrespective of age, sex or body mass index.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS)?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) is one of the most common and problematic sleep-related disorders that causes uncontrolled breathing patterns at night. This occurs when the muscles and walls surrounding your airway become overly relaxed and collapse on themselves, blocking air entering your lungs. Your body corrects for this by entering a lighter level of sleep where your muscles have more strength. Your body can breathe again, but at the expense of losing that deep, restorative phase of sleep. This can happen many times per hour, all throughout the night.
Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults
Studies show this syndrome to be relatively common. Shockingly though, it’s estimated that 80% – 90% of people with a moderate to severe form of this syndrome remain undiagnosed.
In addition to feeling very tired and sluggish during the day, other symptoms include:
- Loud snoring during the night that is witnessed by someone else
- Nighttime gasping or choking
- Headaches in the morning
- Having a dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Increasing neck size
If your doctor is concerned you may have OSAS, then the best way for an accurate diagnosis is to have an overnight sleep study. This can be done in a lab (don’t worry, it is decorated like a hotel room and they get you out before work the next morning), or in the comfort of your own home.
Potential Signs of Pediatric Sleep Disordered Breathing and Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children
- Mouth Breathing
- Restless sleep pattern
- Periods of Apnea (pausing in breathing)
- Gasping and Choking in sleep
- Difficulty concentrating in school
- Hyperactive or inattentive behavior during the day
- Bed wetting
- Poor growth
If you notice that your child has any of the above symptoms, a pediatric ENT specialist should evaluate them. In some cases, a specialist will be able to make a diagnosis of sleep disorders based on history and a physical examination. In other cases, additional testing such as a sleep test may be recommended. A sleep study is an objective test for sleep-disordered breathing and is generally performed in a sleep laboratory or hospital. At Advanced Specialty Care, we offer child-focused treatment with one of our highly skilled pediatric ENT physician specialists.
Sleep Apnea (OSAS) Treatment for Adults
For adults suffering from sleep apnea, the best treatment available today is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP mask. The mask works by delivering air to you at a higher pressure to keep the walls of your airway from collapsing. If a sleep study confirms you have OSAS, then a second sleep study will be performed with a CPAP mask to find out the best pressure settings for your body. If you can’t tolerate the CPAP mask or it does not work for you, there are surgical procedures designed to address sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea (OSAS) Treatment for Children
In children, the culprit for sleep disordered breathing is usually enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids. When a child reaches deep levels of sleep, the airway relaxes, allowing enlarged adenoids to block the nasal passages. If large tonsils fall into the back of the throat, breathing can be obstructed. Surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids, otherwise known as tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy is generally considered the first-line treatment. Not every child with snoring should undergo tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy unless potential risks exist. Most patients exhibit a dramatic improvement after tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, however additional treatments such as weight loss, use of continuous positive airway pressure, or additional surgical procedures may sometimes be required.
If you think you or your child could be suffering from any sleep-related breathing problems, a consultation with an Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist is in order. At Advanced Specialty Care, our Board Certified ENT Physicians are able to diagnose and treat sleep disorders and other conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea in adults, children, and infants. Please call (203) 830-4700 to make an appointment at any of our five convenient offices throughout Connecticut in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield or Southbury.