Treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in Children

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At Boston Children's Hospital, we take obstructive sleep apnea seriously: We know that it can have real effects on your child's health, behavior and quality of life. Our specialists in the Sleep Center have extensive experience in treating all forms of the condition and are here to help. 

Can OSA be treated?

Yes, the therapies available for children experiencing OSA are very effective. With the proper treatment, children will usually be able to get relief from their symptoms and sleep and breathe well at night.

Why is treatment important?

Although your child may outgrow her OSA as the structures in her throat change, not sleeping well now can have long-term consequences that affect her growth and development, including:

  • cognitive problems (learning disabilities, hyperactivity and mood disorders)
  • high blood pressure (and possibly more serious cardiovascular problems in adulthood)
  • metabolic problems or hormone imbalances (such as glucose intolerance or changes in the amount of growth hormone)

Getting care for your child's nighttime breathing problems can have far-reaching positive effects on her ability to function well during the day and on her overall health.

What treatments are available?

Strategies to help children get back to breathing well at night often include:

  • tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, where your child's tonsils and adenoids (soft tissues located above the roof of the mouth) are surgically removed at the same time.
  • weight loss for children who are overweight
  • surgery to remove the excess tissue from the nose and throat if OSA is caused by abnormalities in facial structure
  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a device used to maintain the airway during sleep 

How does a CPAP machine work?

A CPAP machine increases air pressure in the throat, so a child's airway does not collapse when breathing while he's asleep.

The air stream is delivered through one of the following:

  • a mask that covers the nose, only
  • a mask that covers the nose and mouth
  • small prongs that fit into the nostrils

What side effects may occur from using a CPAP machine?

Although most children experience none, some of the following side effects may occur:

  • dry nose, nosebleeds
  • nasal congestion, runny nose
  • sore throat
  • irritation of the eyes or face
  • headaches

What makes Boston Children's approach unique?

The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children's brings together doctors, nurses and sleep lab technologists who specialize in working with children with sleep disorders. We use advanced methods and sleep-monitoring technologies to study your child's sleep and breathing patterns, which allows us to non-invasively diagnose even subtle forms of sleep disorders and leads us to best treatment options. In addition, we perform modified sleep studies to observe and evaluate  any events that occur over the course of the night.

Every aspect of what we do is designed specifically for children. We take time to carefully diagnose your child's condition and provide close follow-up care. At every step, we work together with your family, as we consider you to be a central part of our care team.

Coping and Support

This list outlines some of our resources at Boston Children's and in the community that may be helpful to you:

  • Struggling to help your child get good sleep? You can find information and resources from our team on Boston Children's sleep page.
  • The book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, MD, founder and former director of Children's Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, helps parents understand children's sleep and shows them how they can cure most of the problems themselves. First published in 1986, the book has since been revised and expanded in a new edition.
  • Children's Center for Families is dedicated to helping families locate the information and resources they need to better understand their child's particular condition and take part in their care. All patients, families and health professionals are welcome to use the Center's services at no extra cost. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please call 617-355-6279 for more information.
  • You may also want to visit the Children's For Patients and Families website, which has information on the wide array of support services available to families at Children's.

Other resources

Please note that neither Children's nor the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders unreservedly endorses all of the information found at the sites listed below.

  • The National Sleep Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders and supports sleep-related education, research and advocacy to improve public health and safety.
  • The Healthy Sleep website, a resource developed by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School with the WGBH Educational Foundation, provides information on the importance and science of sleep and resources for improving sleep quality.
  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is a professional medical association that represents practitioners of sleep medicine and is involved with research on disorders of the sleeping brain.
  • The American Sleep Apnea Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing injury, disability and death from sleep apnea and to enhancing the well being of those affected by this common disorder.
  • The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides information about RLS. Its goals are to increase awareness, improve treatments and, through research, find a cure for RLS.
  • Narcolepsy Network is a patient support organization providing education and information about this neurological sleep disorder.


Sleep deprivation in teens: risky business?
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control shows that more than 60 percent of American teens aren't getting an adequate amount of sleep, which may make them more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Learn ways to help your child avoid sleep deprivation in this blog post published on Thriving, Children's pediatric health blog.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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