What parents should know about sleep apnea in children

Medical experts are warning parents that if you hear your young son or daughter snoring, it could potentially be a sign that the child is suffering from sleep apnea.

“It should raise a flag,” Dr. Sydney Butts, an ear, nose and throat doctor in New York City told ABC News of snoring in children. “You should think about watching some other signs and symptoms that may kind of sound the alarm.”

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“It’s not a problem restricted to adults,” Butts added of sleep apnea. “It’s actually one of the most common reasons why children need their tonsils or adenoids removed.”

If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to chronic heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and other health problems, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA).

Kevin and Amanda Cook told ABC News that three months after they brought home their infant son, Caden, he started to have episodes during which he would stop breathing. They later learned that he had sleep apnea.

Amanda Cook
Caden Cook was diagnosed with sleep apnea as a baby after undergoing a sleep study at a California hospital.

Amanda Cook said she watched as her child became, “just completely limp, non-responsive.”

“I’d have to … hold him and say, ‘Caden, Caden, Caden,'” the mother added.

“Finally, you know, he’d start breathing,” she said. “And it just got worse and worse.”

When Caden was 6-months-old, the Cooks took him to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, in Palo Alto, California, to undergo a sleep study. Doctors there diagnosed Caden with both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when something is blocking your airway, such as your tonsils. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, according to the ASAA.

Sleep apnea is not uncommon in newborns, but even after Caden was past the infant stage he was still not getting better. His tonsils were not enlarged, so doctors did not recommend surgery, his parents said.

Symptoms of sleep apnea in children include snoring, hyperactivity, trouble focusing in school, depression or anger and even bed wetting. Some of these symptoms can often be confused with those of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to Butts.

“Many kids … may get labeled as being hyper active,” Butts said. “And I think it’s important to look at a variety of different causes that could be contributing to that. It may not be that sleep is the only cause, but if there’s a worry about the child’s sleep it should definitely be investigated.

ABC News Senior Medical Contributor, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, said that the fact that sleep apnea can be misdiagnosed as ADHD in children speaks to the importance of sleep for your overall health. She added that sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP machine, which forces air into your mouth and keeps your airways open as you sleep.

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