Can children develop sleep apnea?

The way we sleep has a huge impact on how we feel and function during the day, and the same is true for kids. The arena of sleep disorders in children is rapidly growing. Sleep apnea occurs in up to 1-3% of young children.
Marilene B. Wang, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
Yes, if your child has periods during the night where she gasps for air, then stops breathing for anywhere from six to 10 seconds at a time, followed by a big gasp, and then a breath again, that could be a sign of sleep apnea. Children who have sleep apnea also snore loudly between periods of sleep apnea. These are children you can hear sleeping from the next room, even down the hallway. You can hear their loud breathing, and they seem to be struggling during the night. If you're concerned that your child has sleep apnea, talk to your pediatrician; it could indicate a severe sleep problem.
Children can indeed develop sleep apnea. This can be caused by any obstruction of the upper airway, such as large tonsils or adenoids. Children who are obese or who have abnormally shaped necks or jaws, conditions such as Down syndrome or neuromuscular disorders have an increased risk of sleep apnea. You might hear children with sleep apnea snoring loudly, pausing their breaths, or gasping. They may be excessively tired or cranky during the day or wake with a dry mouth or sore throat.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

The most important sign to look for is habitual snoring at night. You may also notice breathing pauses, snorting, gasping, a dry mouth, sweating, and catching of breath at night. During the day, the children may be tired, cranky, and out of focus or may have problems with school performance.

Children with some syndromes (such as Down syndrome) are particularly at risk as are obese children without any syndromes. Also at risk are children with neuromuscular disorders, abnormalities of the face and jaw, and large tonsils and adenoids. "At risk" does not mean they will get sleep apnea but that they should be screened for it.


Lynne Kenney

Yes, indeed children can develop sleep apnea.

The most common kind of sleep apnea is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome. It is characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction that occur during sleep, usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that about 2 percent of children have obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can impact a child's overall functioning, therefore consulting with a physician is recommended. In 2002 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children have a sleep study before a tonsillectomy is considered.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.