Most children will occasionally snore, and some will snore frequently. Light snoring that can barely be heard is rarely a cause for concern. If a child is consistently snoring loudly this could be an indication that they have a respiratory infection or an allergy. However, it could also be a sign of a more serious illness such as sleep apnoea.
Everyone is allowed to have a short gap or break in their breathing pattern at night, however If a child’s snoring also includes frequent or particularly long pauses or gasps (10 seconds is thought to be an acceptable upper limit), this could be a symptom of sleep-disordered breathing, or obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS). These pauses and gasps cause inconsistent breathing patterns for the child which in turn causes the child not to get the required amount of quality sleep meaning they will be overtired in the daytime. There are some known contributing factors to sleep apnoea, which include:
- Enlarged or swollen tonsils and/or adenoids
- Reflux disorders
- Face or jaw (craniofacial) physical abnormalities
So how can you know if your child is suffering from sleep apnoea? Well, there are a few signs that you can look out for. Obviously, snoring is the first symptom, so keep a note of your child’s snoring pattern and volume. This isn’t the only sign to watch out for though, if your child is frequently waking up during the night then they will likely be tired during the daytime. They could also be sleeping in unusual positions in order to make their breathing easier, or be particularly restless and fidgety. If your child’s behaviour and moods seem to change then keep an eye on these changes as it could also be linked to sleep patterns due to snoring and breathing issues. Finally, excessive or increasing sweating at night can indicate that your child is working harder than they should be to breathe comfortably.
To determine if your child does, in fact, have OSAS you will first need to be assessed by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant or a paediatrician, or in some cases both specialists. It is possible that further tests may be required, such as blood tests, X-rays and/or an overnight sleep study at a hospital. Your GP or specialist can make the necessary referrals for this. The sleep study will record breathing patterns and the heart rate of your child and the results will provide the diagnosis and a treatment plan can be made.
There are a number of treatments available for OSAS. These are:
- Medical treatments such as steroid drops or sprays or even antibiotics in some cases, following an ENT review
- Nasal prongs to keep the airway open – occasionally required in young children or infants with syndromic or craniofacial problems.
- CPAP – The child wears a mask while asleep which provides continuous air flow. This is usually only required in the most severe cases.
- Surgery – one of the commonest causes of sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnoea in children is having large tonsils and/or adenoids. Surgery to address these problems (adenotonsillectomy) is occasionally required and very often extremely effective.
If you are worried about your child snoring, you should make an appointment with your GP in the first instance to discuss the treatment options.