If your sleeping toddler snores, makes snorting sounds, or breathes through her mouth, you should let her doctor know. If she snores once in a while or only when she has a cold or a stuffy nose, your doctor will probably say she’s fine. But because snoring can signal other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics says you should always check it out with her doctor to be on the safe side.
If your toddler snores loudly, pauses between breaths, seems to work hard to breathe, or gasps as she tries to catch her breath, she may have a potentially serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea.
The most common causes of sleep apnea in children are enlarged tonsils and adenoids (the glands in the throat just behind the nose). Other factors include being overweight and having certain facial characteristics, such as a receding chin and cleft palate.
Sleep apnea peaks between the ages of 3 and 6, when the tonsils and adenoids are at their largest in comparison to child-sized airways. But children younger than 3 can also have this condition.
Because the condition disrupts sleep, you may notice that your child tends to be sleepy during the day when she should be alert. A child with sleep apnea is also more likely to be cranky and irritable, and she may have behavior problems.
If you’re not sure that your child has sleep apnea, record your child’s breathing while she’s sleeping and bring the recording to your child’s doctor. If your doctor thinks your child’s snoring should be checked out further, he may refer you to a specialist – an ear, nose, and throat doctor or a sleep expert – to assess your child’s breathing.
The specialist may recommend a sleep study. This is a test done at a sleep laboratory in a hospital. Your child’s breathing, heart rate, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels will be monitored during sleep to determine if there’s a problem that requires treatment. If she has a sleep disturbance that is caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids, the doctor may suggest removing them – a relatively simple operation that may solve the problem.
If this simple surgery doesn’t work or your doctor thinks the surgery isn’t a good choice for your child, he might suggest a treatment called CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure. Your child will wear a mask to bed that delivers a steady supply of air through her nose so she can breathe comfortably. If your child’s sleep apnea is caused by her being overweight, the doctor can help you modify her diet. In the meantime, he may suggest she use a CPAP machine until her snoring problem improves.
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