Detecting Sleep Apnea in Children by Monitoring Oxygen Levels

Sleep apnea in children is often underdiagnosed or completely missed. It’s not uncommon for children to snore. However, some of these snoring kids may be suffering from a dangerous sleep disorder. Diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in children was once a lengthy and expensive process. However, recent studies may show how a simplified approach can be just as effective.

The Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry is no stranger to OSA. We treat patients of all ages who suffer from the sleep disorder. Our professional staff is always on the lookout for advances in technology surrounding OSA. We stay informed of new ways to diagnose and treat the condition and share this information with our patients. We’re excited about the new developments for detecting sleep apnea in children. Now, more people will get the treatment they need.

Sleep Apnea in Children

OSA can affect people of any age. We see this disorder most commonly in adults; however, the disorder also affects children. The problem with OSA is that it can be quite difficult to diagnose. This is even truer when it comes to diagnosing children. Many people misunderstand the common symptoms of OSA. They include snoring, tiredness, difficulty focusing and remembering, and more. OSA lacks a clear, defining symptom.

The common symptoms combined with children’s difficulty in articulating their symptoms makes diagnosing sleep apnea in children even more difficult. These are also common symptoms for growing children. The only way to really understand if your child has OSA is to discuss their symptoms with their pediatrician. They will then advise if they recommend further investigation.

When a doctor suspects an adult has sleep apnea they refer them to a sleep clinic for overnight evaluation. However, things aren’t as easy for children. There are very few certified pediatric sleep specialists across the country. It’s also expensive, and often difficult to have a successful overnight monitoring session with children. As a result, many children don’t undergo the proper testing for the disorder.

A Simple Way to Detect Sleep Apnea in Children

A sleep study involves monitoring several bodily functions and responses. These include eye movement, pulse, breath, blood oxygen level, muscle activity, and more. The sleep technician places sensors at strategic points on the body. The wires relay the data to a computer, often in an adjoining room. This information gives the sleep specialist everything they need to diagnose sleep disorders. However, trying to get children to sleep in a strange place, hooked up to a number of wires, is difficult.

Thankfully, a recent study has shown fantastic results when it comes to monitoring only blood oxygen levels to detect sleep apnea in children. News Medical published an article with the findings of the study:

 “By simplifying the procedure and dramatically reducing the cost, we believe we can evaluate more children who are at significant risk, especially in areas where there is limited access to a pediatric sleep laboratory facility,” said the study’s senior author, David Gozal, MD, MBA, professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and immediate past president of the American Thoracic Society (ATS).

Paring down monitoring to a simple pulse oximeter clipped to the tip of the child’s finger is effective and inexpensive. The single sensor detects heart rate and blood oxygen levels. It is comfortable to wear overnight. It’s easy to reposition the sensor if it becomes dislodged. This change could cut evaluation and diagnosis costs by nearly 95 percent.

Study Details

The researchers who conducted the study compared the results to the polysomnography tests currently used.

They analyzed more than 4,000 studies performed on children aged two to 18 years old, who were referred to one of 13 leading pediatric sleep laboratories around the world for frequent snoring or other signs of obstructive sleep apnea. They found that the data from measures other than oximetry was of limited additional value.

“In an odd way, this effort to cut back on resources could be seen as a major advance,” Gozal said. “Access to an accurate and easily implemented diagnostic tool, such as overnight oximetry for obstructive sleep apnea, could increase the frequency and lower the cost of screening, providing a simple, robust way to detect children at high risk and get them into treatment.”

This sleep disorder responds very well to treatment. Most individuals notice immediate improvements when it comes to feeling rested, being able to concentrate, and having improved memory function. It’s likely that these children will begin to improve in school and life with adequate treatment.

Your child’s pediatrician will cover the different treatment options for your child. These can range from CPAP therapy, to customized dental appliances, to waiting for them to outgrow the disorder. It’s important to find a plan you and your child can follow. The patient must be able to follow treatment plan for it to be effective. Untreated OSA results in serious health conditions later in life such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Early treatment can go a long way in preventing these serious health issues. If you suspect your child may have OSA, please talk to their pediatrician. Don’t delay putting them on the path to a happy, healthy life.

Call the Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry at (301) 530-3600 to learn more about sleep apnea in children.