Can Children Have Sleep Apnea?

The short answer, Yes, your child can have pediatric OSA. Sleep apnea can affect young people of any age, ethnicity, and genetic makeup. This article will go over some risk factors and consequences. as well as treatment options for you and your child.

obstructive sleep apnea in children

Precautions must be taken, but your child could grow out of any Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) issues. SDB’s can range anywhere from light snoring, infrequent stoppages in breathing, to severe obstructive sleep apnea with heavy snoring with persistent apnea’s.

“Approximately 10 percent of children snore regularly and about 2-4 % of the pediatric population has OSA. Recent studies indicate that mild SDB or snoring may cause many of the same problems as OSA in children.” (Pediatric Sleep Disordered Breathing/Obstructive Sleep Apnea)

Risk Factors Associated with Pediatric OSA

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids: When enlarged, the tonsils and/or adenoids block your child’s airway.
  • Fat deposits around the neck and throat due to obesity: these deposits can also block the airway because of unnecessary “crowding” in the neck and throat.
  • Physical abnormalities involving the lower jaw or tongue: An abnormally sized tongue or obscure lower jaw can lead to breathing issues.
  • Neuro-muscular deficits such as cerebral palsy: neurological disorders that affect muscles used for breathing obviously put undo strain on your child’s breathing capability.

Consequences of Untreated Pediatric OSA

  • Social: Loud snoring is a significant social problem if a your child shares a room with siblings or at sleepovers or camp.
  • •Behavior and learning:  with OSA your child can be moody, inattentive, and disruptive both at home and at school. Sleep disordered breathing can also be a contributing factor to ADD or ADHD in your child.
  • •Bed-wetting: during an apnea, your brain has to work harder forcing the lungs to breathe that it neglects other bodily functions, like urination.
  • •Growth: your child will not produce enough growth hormone, therefore, resulting in abnormally slow growth and development.
  • •Obesity: OSA may cause your child to have an increased resistance to insulin which can lead to obesity. Also, daytime fatigue resulting from OSA can lead to decreased physical activity and, therefore, obesity.
  • •Cardiovascular: OSA leads to high blood pressure and/or other heart and lung problems.

baby sleeping

When is OSA a Problem for Your Child?

A sleep physician will determine whether or not your child has sleep apnea, or is on the path to develop OSA.

“Currently there are no universally accepted guidelines as to when children’s OSA is sufficiently severe as to warrant treatment. Unlike adults, normal children rarely experience obstructive apnea events. Consequently, most pediatric sleep specialists regard an apnea index (AI) of more than 1 or an apnea hypopnea index (AHI) of 1.5 as abnormal and most recommend treatment of any child with an AI greater than 5. (An apnea index includes only respiratory events with an absence of airflow and does not include hypopneas, or respiratory events with reduced air flow). In the case of an AHI of 5 to10 (mild to moderate OSA) or more than 10 in a child who is 12 or younger, which indicates moderate to severe pediatric OSA, the decision to treat is usually straightforward.” (Children’s Sleep Apnea)


*Above all, make sure your child is eating a well-balanced diet, and getting enough physical exercise.



The most common pediatric OSA treatment for your child is a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy (surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids) In simple cases, the operation is effective 70-90% of the time.

CPAP Therapy

child using cpap

Your next option is PAP treatment if the surgery does not work or is not applicable. CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is done via a device that pushes air through your child’s airway. Air flows through a hose that connects to a mask on the child’s face.

A sleep study (titration) determines the pressure settings of the machine. You should re-check your child’s pressure needs due to the rapidly changing physical aspects of your child. Annually is a good place to start.

NOTE: If you’ve heard that CPAP can be difficult to adjust to your aren’t wrong. For children, however, the challenge can be even more of a hassle. I assure you that the treatment is comforting once your child realizes the benefits. (sleeping better, not being tired, being more “themselves”)


sick child

Treat your child regularly for any seasonal alergies and/or coughs, colds, asthma, and acid re-flux. As a result, these issues will make their pediatric OSA worse.


Support groups are an underrated source of comfort. One great option for you and your child is a program called A.W.A.K.E. This group has factions all over the nation. They consist of discussion groups, info, and more information about pediatric OSA.


  • Admin. “How to Deal with Sick Children and Sleep – Good Night.” Good Night, 20 July 2018,
  • “Children’s Sleep Apnea.”, 2017,
  • Communications. “Pediatric Sleep Disordered Breathing/Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 3 Jan. 2018,
  • “Pediatric Sleep Apnea Treatment Los Angeles.” Los Angeles Ear, Nose & Throat Doctors,
  • Rodriguez, Julia. “Would a Child with Sleep Apnea Need CPAP?” Advanced Sleep Medicine Services, Inc., 12 Nov. 2016,
  • “Symptoms of Sleep Apnea (OSA) in Children #Sleepapneasymptoms | Sleep Apnea Symptoms | Pinterest | Sleep Apnea and Insomnia.” Pinterest, Ranars Remedies, 2018,
  • “Tonsillectomy.” Optimized360 Content, 17 Feb. 2017,

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.