Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

If your child snores or has trouble breathing at night, he or she may not just be a noisy sleeper. It could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which breathing is repeatedly blocked during sleep. OSA affects about 2 to 5 percent of children and teenagers.

OSA occurs when the upper airway in the back of the nose or throat is blocked, preventing the normal amount of air from entering the lungs. Sleep apnea involves brief (10-20 seconds) breathing pauses (apneas) that occur often throughout the night. These pauses can lead to a temporary decrease in oxygen levels, which alert the brain there is a problem. The brain then “jump starts” breathing again by waking up the sleeping person. Although breathing resumes, these brief wakings disrupt sleep.

OSA can cause children to be tired, irritable or hyperactive during the day and to perform below their potential at school.

How we care for obstructive sleep apnea

At Boston Children’s Hospital, the specialists in our Sleep Center include a team of board-certified clinicians with training in pulmonary medicine, neurology, developmental medicine, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat or ENT) and dentistry. Children whose sleep apnea is caused by enlargement of their adenoids and tonsils are also treated in the General Otolaryngology Program.