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Snoring (Children)

What causes snoring in children?

By far the most common reason that children snore is due to large tonsils and adenoids. Occasionally there are other anatomical causes such as a very small jaw or airway. Sometimes the muscles and nerves which co-ordinate breathing during sleep are not working properly.

Children who have hayfever (allergic rhinitis) or chronic sinus problems frequently develop significant swelling of the adenoid tissue and turbinates in the nose. These can also be a cause of snoring.

How common is snoring in children?

We think snoring affects about 10 to 12 per cent of all children between the ages of 1 and 9. We say a child has habitual snoring if they are snoring at least three or four times per week.

Is snoring in children different to snoring in adults?

The mechanism of snoring in children and adults is the same. Snoring is a noise made by vibrating air moving through a narrowed space. It indicates that there is increased resistance to airflow through the upper airway. This is sometimes called upper airway resistance syndrome.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sometimes while snoring the airways become so narrow that despite a child’s best effort, no air is delivered. The is called an apnoea. As oxygen levels falls, carbon dioxide levels rise. Eventually the child will stir or wake up to catch his or her breathe. This can happen hundreds of times per night in children with severe sleep apnoea.

What problems can snoring and sleep apnoea cause?

Snoring causes sleep disruption which can lead to a range of behavioural issues.

These include:

  • Poor concentration and inattention
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD)
  • Bed wetting
  • Nightmares
  • Slow growth
  • Headaches
  • Impaired memory
  • Other behavioural problems (aggression, anxiety) and social impairment

Unfortunately research suggests that if you do not treat snoring and sleep apnoea early enough the changes to the brain are permanent and the child’s IQ will never be as high.

With time, snoring and sleep apnoea can also cause problems with the cardiovascular system including damage to the heart, high blood pressure and obesity.

What are the treatments for sleep apnoea in children?

In children, the most common reason for sleep apnoea is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. The best treatment is to send them to an ear, nose and throat surgeon for assessment and to consider removing them. This can cure the problem in more than 90% of children.*

*Individual results may vary.

Some children with more complicated breathing problems may need to go on to require CPAP or BIPAP (airway pressure mask) treatments.

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