Sleep Apnea in Teenagers: Causes of Sleep Apnea in Teens

Sleep apnea may be causing your teenager to experience daytime drowsiness. They could also have a hard time concentrating in class and have falling grades. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include frequent sore throats or headaches in the mornings. If you’ve noticed these symptoms in conjunction with excessive snoring you may have already spoken to your child’s doctor.

Our staff at the Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Bethesda, Maryland treats sleep apnea patients of all ages. Our office gets many referrals to help those who suffer from the disorder. We understand that learning your child has a sleeping disorder can be a trying time. We’re here to help you navigate through the process and help your teenager sleep better.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Teenagers

Many of the same things that cause sleep apnea in adults can also cause the sleeping disorder in teenagers. Most commonly, it is caused by enlarged adenoids and tonsils that obstruct the airway. Thankfully this is an easy fix with a simple surgery. A doctor can remove the enlarged adenoids and tonsils to open up the airway. Your teen will then be able to breathe more easily at night and you should see a reduction and eventual elimination of symptoms.

Your teenager may be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea if there is a family history of the disorder. This could be an indication that your child could have more genetic traits that could lead to the development of sleep apnea. These genetic traits could include a narrow airway or defects in the mouth, tongue, or jaw. While some of these may be able to be corrected with surgery, others may be corrected by sleeping with a dental appliance.

Other causes of sleep apnea in teenagers can include being overweight. When your teenager is overweight then it’s possible that the excess weight can obstruct the airway. This is especially true at night when the muscles relax. It is often more noticeable if your child is sleeping on their back.

Sleep apnea is also common if your child has specific medical conditions such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

Treating Sleep Apnea in Teenagers

The treatment options for teenagers who suffer from sleep apnea vary based on what is causing the condition. As mentioned earlier, the removal of enlarged adenoids or tonsils is a quick solution to the sleeping disorder. However, sometimes the solution can be a little more complicated. If your child has a genetic trait that is causing the sleeping disorder then the solution may require multiple surgeries. Or, it could be as simple as having a specially designed dental appliance that your teen uses at night. Some dental appliances can reposition the jaw at night to help keep the airway open.

There are also cases where treating sleep apnea requires a longer term treatment plan. For example, in the event that the disorder is caused by obesity then your child will need both immediate and long term treatment options. The immediate treatment option could include a CPAP machine. This machine provides a continuous flow of air that gently keeps your teen’s airway open as they sleep. This should provide immediate relief for their symptoms. However, a long term solution will require lifestyle changes.

Your doctor may recommend that your child work with a nutritionist to eat healthier and help lose the weight. Healthy eating and exercise can help your child live a healthier life and reduce their body fat percentage. However, if your child is overweight due to an underlying medical condition then that condition will need to be treated. Your doctor may suggest thyroid testing or other tests to help determine why your child may be overweight.

Taking Control over Sleep Apnea

No matter what the cause is, it’s important to have your child evaluated and treated as soon as possible. Sleep apnea is a very serious disorder that can have long term effects on heart and brain health. It also can cause problems with schooling, making it more difficult for your child to absorb their school material. It can be especially dangerous if your child drives. Being overly tired behind the wheel can lead to a fatal car accident.

If your child is showing any of the symptoms of sleep apnea then you should schedule an appointment. The sooner your doctor reaches a diagnosis for your child’s sleeping condition, the sooner they will be able to help your teenager. Long term problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke can result from untreated sleep apnea. Getting your child help is the first step to getting them back on track to a happy and healthy life.

If you have any questions regarding sleep apnea, please contact the Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Bethesda, Maryland at (301) 530-3600.