Paediatric obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a relatively common disorder among children in Singapore and can have serious consequences. It affects growth, heart and blood pressure levels, behavior and cognition – even life itself if left untreated. If left untreated, OSA poses serious health risks to children.

Obstructive sleep apnea is more likely in children with certain conditions, such as obesity and birth defects in the face or skull. Furthermore, children may develop this disorder due to a family history of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea often manifests with enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which block the airway during sleep. Other tissues in the nose, throat and tongue may also contribute to this issue.

Tonsillectomy surgery, in which the adenoids and tonsils are removed, is commonly used to treat mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea. Studies have shown that up to 90% of patients benefit from this surgery.

In severe cases, a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure machine, or CPAP machine, may be utilized. This machine delivers an uninterrupted stream of pressurised air into the nasal passages while sleeping and has proven successful at treating obstructive sleep apnea; however, some children may find this uncomfortable.

The initial step in treating sleep apnea is diagnosis, which can be done through polysomnography at a sleep center or clinic. For optimal results, the test should be conducted during an overnight stay in a sleep lab by technologists experienced in working with pediatrics.

Children with obstructive sleep apnea may wake up multiple times during the night and find it difficult to breathe clearly. This can lead to fitful sleeping patterns, poor attention spans and behavioral issues.

Your doctor may suspect sleep apnea if your child frequently stops breathing while asleep or snores loudly. A home study could be conducted, where monitoring of your child in their own bed while they sleep could provide valuable insight.

Signs of sleep apnea in children include loud snoring, noisy breathing while asleep and daytime fatigue. They might also experience other issues like irritability and hyperactivity.

In certain cases, your doctor may suggest trying topical nasal steroids such as fluticasone or budesonide. These medication helps reduce swelling and mucus in the nose, allowing your child to breathe easier while they sleep.

Other treatments for sleep apnea include weight loss and exercise programs. Your doctor may also prescribe antihistamines to combat hay fever and allergies, which may lead to sleep apnea in some children.

As explained above about paediatric sleep apnea, obesity is a major contributing factor to obstructive sleep apnea in children in Singapore. If your child is overweight, it’s essential that they shed pounds and avoid foods that might trigger the condition. Your doctor might also suggest physical activity or eating foods high in protein, fiber and healthy fats like avocadoes.