All kids snore at some time but about one in ten snores regularly, which is cause of concern for many parents, explained Marianne Davey, founder of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association. Snoring occurs when the muscles in the airways relax, then vibrate when air flows past them.
Other floppy tissue in the throat, such as the tonsils, can also add to the noise. Common cause of snoring are sleeping on the back, a cold, and allergy or being overweight. However, for about two to three percent of kids who snore, this is one of the first symptoms of a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnoea.
The condition usually affecting adults but it can also occur in children. Children suffering sleep apnoea often snore loudly, have laboured breathing and then go silent for a few seconds, prior to inhaling and exhaling for air when they resume breathing. These pauses in breathing cause oxygen levels in the blood to fall, and vital organs including the brain and the heart are affected.
Sleep apnoea in adults is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, similarly in kids sleep apnoea has troubling results, such as poor growth, delayed development, behavioural problems, impaired academic performance and reduced concentration. These are in part thought to be because of a lack of oxygen to the brain and other organs.
Due to these breathing problems kids often wake briefly several times a night, they may be grumpy in the morning and in some cases they feel headache and refuse to take breakfast. More worryingly, the condition often goes unnoticed. A study conducted at the Melbourne Sleep Centre in Australia found cognitive differences between sleep apnoea sufferers aged seven to twelve and a control group without sleep problems.
The study authors, sated prolonged sleep apnoea over several years affected a child’s IQ and education, in addition to being associated with behavioural problems and poor memory. The latest study in Britain showed sleep apnoea and snoring made conditions such as hyperactivity more likely. The prime causes of sleep apnoea in children include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, small lumps of lymph tissue at the back of the nose.
Other causes include structural abnormalities of the airways, such as receding jaw, Down’s syndrome and obesity. Dr Ranjan Suri, paediatric respiratory consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital, explained the good news is that the effects can be reversed. It is diagnosed only with an overnight sleep test in a sleep laboratory or at home.
Treatment options include removal of the tonsils and adenoids (adeno-tonsillectomy), nasal drops that shrink the tiny blood vessels in the lining of the nose, losing weight if necessary or wearing a mask overnight to keep the airways open, although these treatments are not always suitable for young children.
Dr Andrew McCombe, ENT specialist at ,Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, and spokesman for ENT UK, stated around twenty percent of the tonsillectomies performed on children in Britain in 2010/11 were done for sleep apnoea and the remainder were for repeated bouts of tonsillitis.