Sleep apnea in children is a terrifying fear for any parent. This is especially true for parents of children who snore excessively, a telltale sign of the dangerous sleep disorder. Thankfully, there may be a new, easy way to detect sleep apnea in children.
Mark Levy DDS and his staff are constantly on the lookout for new technology regarding the detection and treatment of sleep disorders. We do our best to help those suffering from sleep disorders get the treatment they need and deserve to live a long and healthy life. This also includes helping children, though many people don’t realize obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can strike at such a young age.
Sleep disorders such as OSA don’t discriminate against age, sex, or body type. Yes, it’s true that some individuals may be at a higher risk for developing this potentially lethal disorder depending on their circumstances. However, it can strike anyone, at any age.
Sleep disorders such as OSA are difficult to diagnose in anyone. Many other conditions and illnesses have similar symptoms. Typical symptoms of OSA include significant snoring, excessive tiredness, difficulty concentrating, problems with memory, headaches, waking with a sore throat, and much more. There’s no one symptom that stands out and causes people to immediately suspect OSA. While some people may think snoring is a clear indication of the disorder, many people who snore don’t actually have sleep apnea.
It can be even more difficult to determine if children are suffering from sleep disorders, especially OSA. This is because many young children aren’t able to articulate what symptoms they have. Parents of older children may assume their kids simply aren’t getting enough rest at night or are going through a growth spurt. Many parents dismiss snoring as a cold, allergies, or any other number of things.
The only true way to understand if your child is suffering from OSA is by monitoring them while they sleep. However, this isn’t as easy as it seems. Currently, clinical sleep centers lack certified pediatric sleep specialists. This means many children undergoing OSA evaluation. The evaluation and diagnosis shortage is due to the expense and inconvenience of overnighting in a sleep center.
Traditionally, sleep studies monitor a number of bodily functions including blood oxygen level, pulse, eye movement, breath, and muscle activity. It turns out that a computer analysis of blood oxygen levels alone can signify the presence of sleep apnea in children. News Medical recently published an article on this new method:
“By simplifying the procedure and dramatically reducing the cost, we believe we can evaluate more children who are at significant risk, especially in areas where there is limited access to a pediatric sleep laboratory facility,” said the study’s senior author, David Gozal, MD, MBA, professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and immediate past president of the American Thoracic Society (ATS).
This new, inexpensive option is a reliable way to diagnose children with OSA. Not only is it less expensive, it’s also less troublesome for the parents and children alike. It can be especially difficult to get young children to sleep during a study when monitored by several sensors and devices. The blood oxygen method is just one sensor and much easier to manage. A simple pulse oximeter clips onto the child’s fingertip. It measures both blood oxygen levels and heart rate overnight.
The study, “Nocturnal Oximetry-Based Evaluation of Habitually Snoring Children,” was posted on the ATS’s website American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. It featured the scaled back approach of using only a pulse oximeter to produce a favorable full sleep study. The researchers estimate it could cut costs of evaluation and diagnosis by up to 95 percent.
This simplistic approach to monitoring for OSA requires significantly less equipment and personnel. There was some speculation as to if such a narrowed approach would be as effective. This prompted the researchers to compare this new study to traditional polysomnography.
They analyzed more than 4,000 studies performed on children aged two to 18 years old, who were referred to one of 13 leading pediatric sleep laboratories around the world for frequent snoring or other signs of obstructive sleep apnea. They found that the data from measures other than oximetry was of limited additional value.
“In an odd way, this effort to cut back on resources could be seen as a major advance,” Gozal said. “Access to an accurate and easily implemented diagnostic tool, such as overnight oximetry for obstructive sleep apnea, could increase the frequency and lower the cost of screening, providing a simple, robust way to detect children at high risk and get them into treatment.”
Furthermore, the oximetry accuracy increased in relation to OSA severity. The test accurately detected around 75 percent of cases of mild sleep apnea in children. Most mild cases do not require treatment. If symptoms continue, these children will need retested in a few weeks. The test also detected an astounding 82 percent of children with moderate OSA. And it detected 90 percent of those who suffer with severe OSA.
Pediatric OSA is much more common than people realize. It affects up to five percent of children. This disorder impacts the cognitive and physical development of children. It also increases risk of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease as they get older.
This approach “could enable early, frequent, and inexpensive screening of all snoring children and identify those who would definitely need to be treated,” the authors wrote.
Once diagnosed, we can get these children the treatment they need. Parents often notice improvement in their chidren’s school work and behavior after begining treatment. Their improved sleep leads to improved cognitive function. Your child’s pediatrician will recommend treatment based on the severity of your child’s sleeping disorder. Be sure to speak with your pediatrician to ensure you cover all treatment options so you can determine the best course of action for your child.
Many OSA patients are choosing a treatment plan involving a custom fit dental appliance to help prevent their airway from collapsing. This non-invasive method is great for patients of all ages.