Snoring in a child – causes, consequences, and treatment

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For parents who are preoccupied with snoring in their child, we have some news – one piece that is good and the other a little bit worse. Let us start with the latter: prolonged and untreated snoring in children can adversely affect many aspects of their development. The good news is that modern medicine can identify and eliminate the causes of snoring. In this article, we have gathered the most relevant facts that might be useful if your child is snoring – and you plan to consult your doctor about that.

First and foremost, it must be brought to attention that snoring in a child should not be treated in the same way as snoring in an adult. The number one difference is the potential health consequences: in adults, snoring itself is not dangerous; at most, it can be a burden for the rest of the household. In children, on the other hand, long-term snoring can harm their physical, emotional, and mental development. The second difference is the symptoms noticeable daily: an adult snoring at night can struggle with lack of energy or sluggishness during the day, whereas snoring children tend to be irritable, agitated, and hyperactive. We must also keep in mind that some children who snore habitually also suffer from sleep apnea which can, in turn, lead to recurrent hypoxia during sleep with severe consequences for their health.

What might cause a child to snore?

When we sleep, our muscles relax, and our tongue falls

back slightly. It results in narrowing “the airway” through which air enters the lungs. Anything else that further obstructs the airflow through the respiratory tract is what leads to snoring. The causes of snoring can be divided into subsiding naturally or requiring treatment. The most common factors that bring about snoring in children are:

1. Enlarged tonsils (leading to OSA – obstructive sleep apnea)

Tonsil-related issues are the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children. The enlargement of the pharyngeal tonsil (the so-called third tonsil) and the palatine tonsils can develop at any stage of a kid’s life – both in infants and adolescents. However, it mainly occurs in children between 3 and 8 years of age, as they are exposed a lot to pathogens. In such a situation, the antibiotic treatment might not be sufficient, and the removal of the pharyngeal tonsil and or the palatine tonsils turns out to be necessary. Tonsil-related symptoms are accompanied by frequent otitis media and sinusitis, recurrent respiratory infections, nasal obstruction, and mouth breathing.

2. Respiratory infections or allergies

Infections and allergies, followed by a runny nose, cause upper respiratory congestion that negatively affects your child’s sleep and can lead to feeling under the weather, sleepiness, and fatigue during the day and at night – as in the case of an enlarged tonsil – to obstructive sleep apnea.

3. Deviated nasal septum, nasal and sinus polyps

Anatomical problems such as a distorted nasal septum or abnormalities in the so-called turbinates together with inflammatory changes like polyps obstruct airflow during sleep. Many times surgery is essential, frequently to be performed still in childhood.

A non-anatomical cause (rather affecting adults) is the overuse of nasal sprays.

4. Obesity

Obesity in a child can lead to narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe.

Treatment of snoring in a child

Snoring stops once the condition which has caused it in the first place is eliminated. Depending on a diagnosis, the following measures are to be adopted:

  • surgical procedures aiming at straightening the nasal septum, correcting occlusal anomalies, and removing polyps in the nose or enlarged tonsils (adenotonsillectomy)
  • pharmacotherapy – e.g., steroid-based drugs, anti-allergic  or other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • orthodontic treatment – in the case of malocclusion

Where to start treatment?

The correct diagnosis is needed to implement an effective treatment plan. Polysomnography is the current diagnostic method provided by some medical centers. During this test, your child stays the night at the hospital wired to a specific sleep monitor with electrodes. 

Soon, however, there will be a more convenient diagnostic alternative available – offered by the Clebre sensor. Along with a group of doctors of various specializations, I got involved in its development. The main advantage of the sensor is the comfort of use – all you need to do is stick this small device on a child’s neck during the night, avoiding a stressful visit to the hospital altogether. In addition, the data from the sensor are collected in an environment that is natural for your kid: at home and over a longer period. It gives a more precise picture of sleep quality. All this information, more complete and accurate than in the case of a one-night study, is saved in the mobile application. Handing it over to your doctor will ensure an effective diagnosis and treatment. Clebre will also allow you to monitor the effects of the treatment and give you and your doctor access to them on an ongoing basis. However, if you have already noticed any disturbing symptoms such as snoring or pauses in breathing during sleep, start by visiting a specialist to confirm or rule out the most frequent causes: an enlarged tonsil, a nasal obstruction, or an allergy. At the same time, check if the sleeping conditions of your child are optimal – that the head is not too high, the room aired, and your kid is not exposed to passive smoking. If allergies are suspected, remove the likely sources of allergens.

In some cases, since in children 7-8 years of age the tonsils begin to shrink, the doctor can initially recommend an observation. If the doctor deems it necessary, you will be advised a polysomnography test for sleep apnea.

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