Pediatric Sleep Apnea Treatment: Is CPAP for Kids the Right Call?

Pediatric Sleep Apnea Treatment

CPAP is the standard solution for adults struggling with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but what about using CPAP for kids as pediatric sleep apnea treatment?

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which a child’s breathing is entirely or partially blocked repeatedly overnight, a condition caused by narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep.

While OSA is common in adult patients, there are differences in pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. For instance, adults will often experience daytime sleepiness as a result of OSA, whereas children will more likely experience behavioral problems. The underlying cause in adults is typically obesity, but in children, the most common underlying condition is an enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids. However, obesity can still be a factor in children, and in rare cases, craniofacial anomalies and neuromuscular disorders can play a role. 

If not treated early, complications can arise that adversely affect the child’s cognitive development, growth, and behavior. While OSA in pediatric patients generally responds to adenotonsillectomy, not all children are surgical candidates. 

So, what are the signs of sleep apnea in toddlers and other young patients, and what options are currently available for pediatric sleep apnea treatment?

Signs of Sleep Apnea in Toddlers & Other Pediatric Patients

During sleep, some symptoms and signs of pediatric sleep apnea may include:

  • Snoring 
  • Paused breathing
  • Restless sleep
  • Coughing, snorting, or choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Excessive nighttime sweating
  • Bed-wetting
  • Night terrors

However, infants and young children with OSA won’t always snore. Instead, they may just experience disturbed sleep. 

During the daytime, pediatric OSA patients may display behaviors like:

  • Poor school performance
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Learning challenges
  • Behavioral problems
  • Poor weight gain
  • Hyperactivity

How to Help Sleep Apnea in Toddlers & Other Pediatric Patients

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is typically diagnosed by a sleep study performed at a sleep center. Children diagnosed with OSA are generally recommended for an adenotonsillectomy to remove the adenoids and tonsils. This method is usually successful, but surgery can be ineffective in some cases, and further treatment will be needed. In these cases, CPAP for kids can be attempted. 

Most often, the child will be titrated on CPAP in the sleep center. Then they begin using a CPAP device that delivers continuous air pressure. The CPAP machine used by pediatric patients would be the same as an adult patient would use; however, the mask or nose piece that sits on the child’s face would be sized appropriately. 

Some additional approaches to pediatric sleep apnea treatment include:

  • Dietary restrictions
  • Activity restrictions
  • Avoidance of certain alcohol/drugs
  • Drug therapy

Fortunately, sleep apnea in children is rare, and the removal of adenoid and/or tonsils is often successful in treating it. However, CPAP therapy as pediatric sleep apnea treatment is safe and may be necessary for children struggling with severe OSA that is not resolved by adenotonsillectomy or other basic preventative measures. If this is the case, getting children to accept their CPAP therapy is extremely important. Just as parents struggle to get their children to brush their teeth twice a day, getting children to wear their CPAP mask every night may present a challenge, so it’s imperative to be patient, develop a regular plan with a sleep specialist, and continuously work with the child to help them become more comfortable using CPAP therapy in their nightly routine. 

Unsure if your child is a candidate? Schedule an appointment with one of our sleep specialists today!