Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that can affect people of all ages. It’s most
common among middle-aged men, but anyone, including infants, can have the disorder.
During OSA, the airway collapses and produces pauses in breathing that can last for a minute or
longer. People will wake up gasping for air, although they may not remember these episodes as
they happen during sleep.
In children, boys and girls have the same risk for sleep apnea. Children ages 3-6 are more likely
to have the disorder, although only between two to four percent of children suffer from OSA
What are some of the risk factors for childhood sleep apnea? The following conditions may
predispose your child to developing this harmful sleep disorder.
Children with Certain Facial Features
Children who have specific facial characteristics may be more prone to develop sleep apnea.
These characteristics include having smaller nostrils, having been born with cleft palate, or
having a smaller jaw .
These facial features can lead to an inhibited airway during sleep, increasing your child’s risk for
obstructive sleep apnea. Signs of sleep apnea include snoring, daytime fatigue, and behavioral
problems in younger children.
Children who have Down syndrome are more likely to have OSA. These children may have
smaller airway passages and enlarged tongues or tonsils which may lead to the development of
OSA. Weak muscle tone in the upper airway could also increase your child’s risk for sleep apnea
Children with Down syndrome are also more prone to obesity that could lead to trouble
breathing. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for developing OSA as excessive weight
around the neck can cause the airway to collapse during sleep.
Neuromuscular diseases—conditions that affect the muscles and the nerves that control their
movements—can predispose children to OSA.
These include conditions such as muscular dystrophy, dermatomyositis, Guillain-Barre
Syndrome, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disorder . If your child has a neuromuscular
disease in combination with signs of sleep apnea, it’s time to seek an evaluation from a sleep
Children Who Have Tonsillitis
Children with a history of swollen tonsils may experience a collapsed airway during sleep that
could lead to OSA. If your child has tonsillitis, ask your doctor or dentist about their risk for
sleep apnea during their next appointment.
Having a family history of sleep apnea can put your child at risk to develop the disorder. If you
or someone in your family suffers from sleep apnea, let your child’s pediatrician or dentist
know so you can be aware if your child is at risk to develop the disorder.
Don’t Wait to Seek Help
It’s important to seek help for your child’s sleep apnea and not wait for your child to “grow out”
of the disorder. While it’s possible that some children may not have OSA as they get older, the
condition is very damaging while it lasts and could have long-lasting effects on your child’s
cognition and mood .
Getting help from your child’s dentist or pediatrician is paramount. Dentists frequently come
into contact with OSA and can refer you to a sleep specialist for a diagnosis if she or she
believes a sleep disorder is present.
Schedule an appointment with your child-friendly dentist today to discuss the risks of OSA for