Expert Q&A: Sleep Apnea - Nemours Blog


Expert Q&A: Sleep Apnea

Expert Question and Answer

During this Q&A session, pediatric otolaryngologists, sometimes called ENTs (ear, nose, and throat specialists), Nicole Aaronson, MD, and Steven Andreoli, MD, discuss sleep apnea.

Q: Are there any connections between sleep apnea and heart conditions?

A: Some of the rare complications of long-term sleep apnea can impact the heart. Children with congenital heart diseases are monitored very closely for sleep apnea symptoms to avoid extra strain on the heart during sleep. A child that is showing signs of heavy breathing, disordered or irregular breathing, should have a sleep study. 

Q: How do I know if my child needs a sleep study?

A: If your child is younger than 2 years old and shows signs of sleep apnea symptoms, they should have a sleep study. Also, obese kids might need a sleep study. 

Q: Are there any differences between adult and children’s sleep apnea?

A: There is some crossover there, but there are some differences. In adults with sleep apnea, the causes are more complicated but the symptoms are more straightforward. Tonsils and adenoids in adults are important, but usually treating the tonsils and adenoids in adults with sleep apnea is not going to cure it. Untreated sleep apnea in both kids and adults can raise your risk of heart disease, stroke, and more serious medical issues. While adults may show signs of fatigue, a child could be hyperactive due to sleep apnea. 

Q: My 8-year-old and 2.5-year-old have restless sleep. My oldest child’s breath constantly smells bad even though he brushes, uses mouthwash, and his dentist says his teeth are fine. Could this be caused by his tonsils?

A: Tonsils and adenoids can play a role in a lot of these symptoms. An evaluation by a Nemours pediatrician would be helpful. 

Q: Is infant sleep apnea hereditary?

A: I don’t think there is great data on the heredity of sleep apnea. I think there is something to be said for people who have a similar physical build and body type who have similar symptoms. We don’t think it’s necessarily hereditary, it’s just common. 

Q: My 2.5-year-old son is always congested at night. He coughs several times throughout the night but it never wakes him up. We use a cool mist humidifier but it doesn’t make a difference. Could this be sleep apnea?

A: It could be sleep apnea, but it also could be several other things. I think sleep apnea would be on the list, but it wouldn’t be the first assumption. 

Q: Is there a relationship between Chiari malformation and sleep apnea?

A: Yes, but this it’s not the typical obstructive sleep apnea that we would see in a child with large tonsils and adenoids. A sleep study could be done to find out more information. 

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