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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea in children. In OSA, the muscles in the walls of the throat relax while the child sleeps, so the walls collapse and obstruct the flow of air. After 10 to 30 seconds, the child is in a lighter level of sleep or even a brief wakefulness. The muscles tighten — relieving the obstruction — and the child breathes again.
Child sleep apnea usually occurs between the ages of 3 and 6 because of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. A rare cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children is a tumor or growth in the airway. Certain conditions such as Down Syndrome also can cause OSA. Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in children, courtesy of the Mayo Foundation for Medical Information and Research, include:
- Nightly snoring, often with intermittent pauses, snorts or gasps
- Disturbed sleep
- Attention problems
- Chronic fatigue
The most common treatment for children with obstructive sleep apnea is surgical removal of both the tonsils and the adenoids (adenotonsillectomy). After removal of the tonsils and adenoids, the child's upper airway is no longer blocked. Studies indicate that adenotonsillectomy has a high cure rate in children with obstructive sleep apnea.