While sleep apnea is generally a problem associated with adults, up to four percent of all children in the U.S. also suffer from the condition. The most common type of sleep apnea, a condition referred to as Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome is defined by repeated episodes of upper airway obstruction that occurs while a child is sleeping, which can result in a drop of oxygen in the blood supply.
While children who suffer from the condition are known to experience night terrors, bad dreams, restless sleep, excessive bedwetting, daytime drowsiness, and frequent irritability, perhaps most troubling to parents is how sleep apnea can affect their child’s ability to learn. Studies have shown that children with sleep apnea have a higher risk of suffering from a developmental problem, hyperactive behavior, difficulty concentrating, and trouble learning that makes excelling in school a challenge. In some extreme cases, sleep apnea in children has also been linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and a failure to develop physically.
One of the major causes of sleep apnea in children, swollen adenoids, and tonsils, now may have a surgical option. A new study suggests that children who have their adenoids and tonsils removed could receive relief from some of their symptoms. Swollen adenoids and tonsils block the airways, restricting breathing, and leading to sleep problems. Removal of these glands can help to improve the airways and make apnea less of an issue for kids.
While children who underwent the surgery did not show an immediate improvement in learning, memory, or attention, they did enjoy better sleep, behavior, and quality of life when compared to prior to the surgery.
Experts have hypothesized that since sleep apnea causes a drop in oxygen levels in the body, the condition could have a negative effect on a child’s memory and ability to learn. By improving oxygen flow, researchers had hoped to see a dramatic improvement in these areas once the surgery was performed to open previously obstructed airways.
Using a procedure called an adenotonsillectomy, researchers removed the adenoids and tonsils from children who suffered from sleep apnea but were disappointed to find no immediate improvement in how these children functioned in school.
Upon learning their child suffers from sleep apnea, many parents feel compelled to address the problem through surgery rather than risk their child falling behind in school. The results of this study suggest that parents can now afford to stay more patient when mulling over the decision of whether to subject their child to invasive surgery.
However, despite the lack of immediate results improving a child’s ability to learn, doctors still recommend surgery as the most promising way of dealing with sleep apnea. Children who feel more rest and have higher energy levels due to the surgery have better chance of succeeding in school when compared to a child that has trouble staying awake in class. Whether the long-term results of this type of surgery can help improve a child’s success in school remains to be determined, but parents can still improve their child’s quality of life by agreeing to the procedure once sleep apnea has been diagnosed in their child at a young age.