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Sleep Apnea Can Impact a Child's Health and Development

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It seems many people in the city that never sleeps aren’t actually sleeping too well. Sleep apnea affects an estimated 18 million Americans and that's not just limited to adults. Kids can get it too, and the causes, and treatments, are very different. NY1’s Jill Urban filed part two of her story on sleep apnea.

Many people dream of sleeping like a baby, but not all babies or kids sleep soundly. In fact, some parents are surprised to learn that kids can have sleep apnea.

"Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder where a child, during their sleep, will stop breathing. And it’s very different than adult sleep apnea. In adult sleep apnea, the adults will stop breathing for about 10 seconds. In kids that time frame is much shorter,” said Dr. Vikash Modi of New York-Presbyterian Komansky Center for Children's Health.

Sleep apnea can have negative impacts on a child’s health and development. Dr. Modi says it usually starts off with heavy loud breathing and then progresses to loud disruptive snoring.

"So snoring should be rhythmic breathing,” Dr. Modi said. “Sleep apnea is when you actually have pauses or breaks in that snoring pattern.”

Pediatric Sleep expert Dr. Haviva Veler says each one of those disruptions prevents the child from falling into the deepest and most restful stage of sleep.

"The immediate effects of sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness or hyperactivity, inability to sit in one place, difficulty in concentrating and learning disabilities,” said Dr. Veler of Weill Cornell Pediatric Sleep Center.

Untreated, long term sleep apnea can lead to respiratory and cardiac problems.

The most common cause for sleep apnea in children is extremely large and obstructive tonsils and adenoids.

Now as for treatment there are two options. First, many doctors will try medication. They will use an antibiotic and a nasal steroid to try to reduce the size of the tonsils or adenoids. If that doesn’t work then it’s on to surgery, and these days the surgery is a lot less invasive than it used to be.

“Surgery involves shaving down the tonsils and shaving down the adenoids. We remove 95 percent and by leaving that 5 percent of tissue behind, most kids really don’t have any discomfort. If we do the surgery say Monday, by Wednesday they are usually back to normal,” said Dr. Modi.

Now a few red flag are loud snoring, restless sleep or maybe a child sleeps in an odd position like with the head tilted back. Or does your child always wake up tired? If you are concerned, talk to your pediatrician because getting answers and a game plan may just help put your mind and your child’s sleep problems to rest.

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