Children grow mentally and physically during sleep. Snoring can put this growth process in jeopardy for children, making it a cause for concern. While adults tend to suffer from snoring more than children, many children do suffer from snoring too, sometimes mild and occasional, which shouldn’t concern you and, in other cases, severe and long-lasting.
Only when you determine the actual cause of your child’s snoring and the accompanying implications can you find the best treatment for them and help them enjoy more restful nights.
Levels of Snoring in Children
Just like with adults, most children snore from time to time. In most cases, this snoring is short-lived and minor, with little or no effect on the child’s well-being. However, if your child’s snoring is frequent or severe and interrupts sleep, it could be a symptom of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB).
Sleep-disordered breathing can differ in frequency and severity.
Primary snoring, also known as habitual or straightforward snoring, is when a child snores two or more times per week without exhibiting any other symptoms or accompanying health problems.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a severe condition characterized by frequent pauses in the child’s breathing during sleep. These lapses in breathing, medically known as apneas, are caused by an obstructed airway and can occur between 5-100 times per hour. Each episode can last between 10-20 seconds. Sleep apnea affects the amount of oxygen your child receives during sleep, reducing the quality and quantity of their sleep.
How Common is Snoring in Children?
Various studies conducted on snoring in children show that up to 27% of children suffer from light and temporary snoring, which is not a health concern.
10-12% of children suffer from primary snoring without experiencing associated symptoms.
These studies approximate the number of children with obstructive sleep apnea to be about 1.2-5.7%.
70% of all children diagnosed with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) have primary snoring.
These are just estimates, and as such, it may be challenging to determine the exact figures for snoring and sleep apnea in children. What’s more, parents may not always be in a position to tell precisely how frequent or severe their children’s snoring is.
There is a test for sleep apnea known as polysomnography which can help determine the exact statistics for snoring. These tests are, however, costly and not always available everywhere.
NB: Researchers conducted studies on the impacts of OSA on children in older children, but they believe that these studies reflect the impact of OSA in kids as young as 2-3 years.
Is Child Snoring Dangerous?
Occasional snoring in children is usually not a cause for concern. However, regular or severe snoring can be a sign of sleep-disordered breathing and can have dire health consequences.
Primary snoring or habitual snoring has previously been treated as benign. However, more recent studies have indicated that regular snoring also poses health risks.
Children with primary snoring have been shown to exhibit cognitive impairment and behavioral problems more than children who don’t or snore occasionally.
Habitual snoring may cause problems in the nervous system and cardiovascular system.
Impacts of OSA in Children
Studies show that Obstructive Sleep Apnea can reduce the amount of oxygen your child receives during sleep, which impacts their physical and mental health and causes problems such as;
- Impaired brain development,
- Cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure,
- Learning challenges,
- Behavioral problems, and
- Altered metabolism
Causes Snoring in Children
Obstruction in the airway causes air to struggle when flowing in and out during breathing, causing snoring. The tissue around the airway vibrates as a person breathes in and out and creates the noisy sound we call snoring.
Snoring in children can be caused by various factors that obstruct the airway.
Risk factors for snoring in children include;
Large or swollen tonsils and adenoids – Tonsils are round pieces of tissue found at the rear of the mouth on both sides of the throat. Adenoids are clumps of tissue located behind the nasal cavity just above the roof of the mouth. They are part of the immune system.
Tonsils and adenoids can be larger than usual either naturally or from swelling caused by infection. This can obstruct the airway and cause snoring in children.
Anatomy – Various anatomic characteristics may impede normal breathing in children during sleep. Examples of anatomic disorders include having a deviated septum where the bone and cartilage that separates the nasal cavity is notably off-center or crooked, making nasal breathing difficult and resulting in mouth-breathing and snoring.
Congestion – Colds, and flu can cause congestion and hinder the proper flow of air. The accompanying infections can cause inflammation in the tonsils and adenoids, making children more susceptible to snoring.
Allergies – Allergies can cause the nose and throat to be inflamed, making it that harder for your child to breathe and raising the risk of snoring.
Obesity – just like adults, overweight children are more prone to snoring. This is because obesity can narrow the airway and increase the risk for Sleep Disordered Breathing, including obstructive sleep apnea, a severe sleep condition.
Asthma – Asthma may impede normal breathing, cause partial blockages of the airway, and increase the risk of snoring in children.
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) – Exposure to ETS, or secondhand smoke, has been shown to interfere with normal breathing and raise the risk of snoring in children.
Contaminated air – Excess contaminants in the air can inhibit normal breathing in children and increase the chances of snoring.
Shorter duration of breastfeeding – various research studies have linked snoring in children to reduced duration of breastfeeding. The link is not clear yet, but it could be that breastfeeding helps the upper airway and immune system develop properly to prevent snoring.
Obstructive sleep apnea – OSA is a big trigger for snoring in children. Most children with obstructive sleep apnea tend to snore and have pauses in breathing.
NB: All children with OSA snore, but not all children who snore have OSA.
When Should You Start to Worry?
If your child is a snorer, but you aren’t sure if it’s normal or a sign of a bigger problem, you consult your pediatrician for better diagnoses.
Signs you can look out for if you are worried about your child’s snoring include;
- Snoring more than three nights per week,
- Gasps in breathing during sleep,
- Morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness
- Diminished concentration
- Below-average weight gain
- Diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bluish skin
What can be done to remedy Snoring in Children?
If your child suffers from mild or occasional snoring, you don’t have to worry about it – it will most likely subside in no time at all. However, if you are dealing with a case of chronic snoring, you may need to seek treatment to avert sleep-disordered breathing.
Here is what you can do.
1) Consult a pediatrician
Your child’s pediatrician is better placed to find signs of sleep-disordered breathing or other possible causes of snoring such as allergies and sleep apnea and diagnose your child. This will shed light on what course of treatment you should take.
2) Maintain Sleep Hygiene
You can improve your child’s sleep hygiene by setting a consistent sleep schedule, minimizing their screen time before bed, dimming the light in their bedroom, and ensuring it is quiet and comfortable.
Adenotonsillectomy is surgery performed to remove the tonsils and adenoids to treat SDB. It is mainly used to treat children with severe sleep apnea and, in some cases, those with primary snoring.
4) Use of anti-snore devices such as Positive Airway Pressure Devices
A PAP device directs pressurized air through a mask and into the mouth and airway to prevent obstruction.
There are two types of PAP devices; continuous (CPAP) and bi-level (BiPAP).
Unlike in adults, where PAP devices are used to treat OSA, they are only used to treat OSA that persists after surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids in children.
Snoring in children can cause concern, especially if accompanied by gasps when breathing during sleep, as this could indicate a more severe sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. Snoring has been shown to adversely affect your child’s physical and mental well-being and reduce the quality of life your child enjoys. Seek medical advice if the snoring of your child is causing you to worry. Only by getting proper diagnoses can you effectively help your child reclaim their restful nights.