Sleep Apnea in Your Child

Sleep apnea affects millions every day, yet it's still largely untreated. Signs usually occur during slumber, when the patient stops breathing for a brief period of time and then resumes normal breathing patterns, only to repeat over and over throughout the night. This disorder can lead to some very dangerous consequences, such as cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. Patients with apnea usually suffer from unbalanced sleep patterns, so an added risk to having this disorder is impairment on the job or while driving. Apnea can strike patients of any age, even children.


Types of Apnea

There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive refers to a collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep, causing blockage of the airway. This type of apnea is the most common. Central sleep apnea is when the brain forgets to signal the muscles of the body to breathe, and mixed is a combination of both obstructive and central. Each episode of apnea can last anywhere from seconds to minutes of time, and the brain tends to rouse the body to start breathing again afterward, but the quality of sleep is consequently affected. Sleep apnea is commonly accompanied by bradycardia, which is when the patient's heart rate is less than 100 beats per minute; cyanosis, which refers to a bluish tinge of the skin due to lack of oxygen; or pallor, which is when there is a pale quality present, such as a gray flush of the skin.

Treatment for Apnea

There are various treatments for apnea that are prescribed, and even more theories are being put forward recently. Primarily, continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, is used for this disorder. This involves a mask put over the face of the patient and a tube going from the mask to an air pump that sends oxygenated air into the patient's airway continuously, keeping it from collapsing. This tends to be a little uncomfortable at first, but can help drastically. It does require a commitment to use it every night though. Surgery is another, less favorable treatment. Behavioral techniques, oral devices and medicines are some other options available. By consulting with their primary physician, patients should be able to find a treatment that is good for them, and by doing so, they will avoid later complications.

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