Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in children | Overview

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If your child snores or has trouble breathing at night, it may not just mean that she’s a noisy sleeper. It could be a sign that she has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common and treatable condition in which breathing is repeatedly blocked during sleep.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway (in the back of your child’s nose or throat) is blocked. This can cause one or more pauses in breathing during sleep. Although a child with OSA tries to breathe during these episodes of blockage, she doesn’t get enough air. This can disrupt sleep and may cause a decrease in the oxygen content of the blood.

OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. It affects about 2 to 5 percent of children, infants and teenagers. Its most common symptoms are snoring, gasping and noisy or difficult breathing during sleep. OSA can also cause children to be unusually tired, irritable or hyperactive during the day or to perform below their potential at school.

OSA treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital

OSA is generally very treatable with airway pressure devices, surgery or other therapies. At Boston Children’s Hospital, we treat OSA at our Sleep Center, through a team of board-certified sleep specialists with training in disciplines including pulmonary medicine, neurology and developmental medicine. Children whose sleep apnea is caused by enlargement of their adenoids and tonsils are also treated in the General Otolaryngology Program (ear, nose and throat specialists).

Boston Children’s Sleep Center uses a multidisciplinary approach customized to each child’s specific symptoms and circumstances. Our experts are leaders in developing strategies that help children sleep well, seeing more than 4,000 children each year in our sleep clinics and laboratories in Boston, Lexington, Peabody, Waltham and North Dartmouth. Learn more about the Sleep Center’s offerings.
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