Apnea (Child)

Many people have short pauses in their breathing, and this is normal. If the pauses occur often for 20 seconds or longer, the condition is called apnea. Apnea can affect children while they sleep. This is known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be caused by any of the following:

  • Obesity

  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids

  • Medicines

  • Anatomic abnormalities

  • Metabolic or genetic disorders

There are a number of symptoms of sleep apnea, and you may see it directly. Other common symptoms include:

  • Snoring

  • Morning headaches

  • Excessive sleepiness

  • Restless sleep

  • Night sweats

  • Nasal obstruction

  • Irritability

  • Behavioral problems

Treatment varies depending on the cause. Surgery can remove swollen tonsils or adenoids. Some children need to lose weight, use medicines, or even breathe with a special mask at night.

Home care

Medicines

If the doctor prescribed any medicines, follow the doctor’s instructions for giving them to your child.

General care

  • Ensure that your home is free of tobacco smoke and indoor air pollutants and allergens. These irritants may make breathing more difficult for your child.

  • Allow your child to rest as needed during the day.

  • Give your child healthy foods and drinks. If your child needs to lose weight, ask to meet with a nutritionist.

  • Encourage your child to exercise.

  • If a nighttime mask is needed, help your child get used to it. It may take time to adjust to the mask.

  • Inform school officials, teachers, and daycare providers about your child’s health. Work with them to ensure that your child is successful and happy during the day.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Your child may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor for evaluation.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Very drowsy or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

When to seek medical care

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • New or worsening symptoms, such as trouble waking your child, daytime tiredness, or morning headache

  • Continuing inattention or behavioral problems at school

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