Sleep apnea in babies is a medical problem that we must pay attention to. It is not just a snoring that comes and goes, but it hides a major breathing disorder.When do we consider sleep apnea in babies? We cannot reduce the problem to mere snoring that some children have from birth. In this case, the disorder we will refer to is a breathing disorder that occurs during the time of rest.
There is obstructive sleep apnea in babies if the child’s breathing is interrupted for a moment. This interruption may be partial, with some remaining air passage; or total, without oxygen exchange during that period.
Hence the gravity of the picture, which needs attention and resolution. With no entry and exit of gases for metabolism, many bodily functions are disrupted, including those of the brain. In the next space we detail more about this condition and its possible treatments.
Causes of obstructive sleep apnea in babies
The origin of this problem in young children lies in the conformation of their airway. In itself, the duct through which air travels in childhood is smaller than in adults, with a limited diameter that can collapse at certain times due to the flexibility of the trachea.
Some babies have a narrower airway than others, for anatomical reasons or from recurring infections. In addition, within the anatomical aspect, a small trachea is not the same because it has limited cartilage, then because of an enlarged tonsil in size.
One of the most common causes is hypertrophy of the tonsils. This lymphoid defense tissue can increase its size and prevent the correct entry of air into the body, especially in the lying position.
The shape of the lower jaw is also a risk factor. Children with smaller facial bones change the shape of the air access door and make it difficult to move inside.
Overweight babies have a double complicating factor. On the one hand, the fat that accumulates in the neck puts pressure on the windpipe; on the other hand, the tongue increases in size in them and falls backwards in the sleeping position.
A special case is constituted by children with cerebral palsy. This pathology is characterized by a looser muscle tone that facilitates the obstruction of the airway in these patients.
Noticeable symptoms of the disorder
The signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in babies surround the respiratory system. The main one is snoring. These are infants who snore excessively, with sounds that seem like adults.
In turn, snoring is usually accompanied by a stoppage of breathing and rhythm. This is apnea itself, when there is no inspiration or expiration and pulmonary mechanics is suspended for an instant.
Sometimes parents or caregivers detect the phenomenon, but many other times it goes unnoticed. This does not mean that you have to constantly check the sleep of the little ones, but it does mean to be attentive every so often, and especially to the sounds.
Babies with obstructive sleep apnea prefer to breathe through the mouth rather than through the nose, as it turns out to be a mechanism that facilitates the entry of a greater volume of air. This dries the oral and nasal mucous membranes, increasing thirst and nighttime awakenings.
Long-term effects of obstructive sleep apnea in babies
What are the consequences of this bad rest and poor oxygen intake during sleep? Well, babies with the disorder tend to be hyperactive during the day, which establishes a higher caloric expenditure. In turn, if this is not supplemented adequately, it can delay the correct progression of weight.
The baby with obstructive apnea is also at risk of early alterations in its incipient teeth. According to an article in the Journal of the Mexican Dental Association, bruxism or teeth grinding is more frequent among children with sleep problems.
In the longer term, in adolescence and adulthood, those who suffered from apnea as infants are more likely to develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. This is most evident in obese children.
The options for treating obstructive sleep apnea in babies are varied, and not all treating medical teams agree on which ones to use at all times. Among the available strategies we have the following:
- Nasal corticosteroids: these are medicines for topical use for congestion in the nasal mucosa. They work in cases of rhinitis, and should always be prescribed by a doctor.
- Adenoid surgery: adenoidectomy is the route of choice for children in whom tonsillar hypertrophy is detected.
- Hygienic and dietary measures: in mild cases, the situation can be improved with adjustments in habits. For example, the position when the child is lying down, the time of sleep, the distribution of meals and the distance of the same from the bedtime.
- CPAP: severe cases that do not improve with any previous alternative, proceed to the use of CPAP equipment, which consists of the injection of positive air pressure through the respiratory route to force oxygen to reach the lungs in the appropriate amount. They are the last option, since their use is chronic.
Should we be alarmed if our baby is detected obstructive apnea?
We should not panic if we receive the diagnosis, but we should provide care in a timely manner. The period of infant development is very important because it marks the rest of the life of the human being.
If we correct the disorders quickly, we avoid serious problems in the future. In the consultation with a pediatrician, we will be able to advise on the best treatment alternatives and what we can do on a daily basis to improve the situation.