Is your child sleepy? Yes, children can have sleep apnea too

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) When you think of snoring and sleep apnea middle aged men likely come to mind. Sleep apnea and other sleep problems can affect even the youngest of people.

Danville mother Tiffany Ray knows that firsthand. "He's very energetic, very curious," Ray said as she described her 3-year-old son Trevor. As Tiffany Ray talked about Trevor, he climbed on every piece of equipment at the park he could find. "He has a big personality," Ray said.

When Trevor was just six months old he started getting upper respiratory infections, but it was something else that made his mother worry. "When he would be real congested he would stop breathing in his sleep ," said Ray. "So I thought it was maybe from the congestion."

But when the congestion cleared up the problem persisted. "Like short breaths at a time like he would just be laying there asleep and then he might stop and then he pick it back up little spurts at a time," Ray said.

Trevor's doctor referred him to Carilion pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Joseph Tamez. "It's important for children to get good sleep so they can learn and acquire new skills and intelligence through the day."

Dr. Tamez suspected sleep apnea, a condition where a person stops breathing in his sleep. Trevor was sent to the Carilion sleep clinic where he and his mom spent the night and Trevor's sleep was monitored overnight. It confirmed what Tiffany had suspected -- her little boy had sleep apnea.

"Particularly the last decade or so we've recognized the prevalence of it," said Dr. Tamez. "As many as 11 percent of children can have sleep disturbance and part of that is sleep apnea."

Trevor now wears a C-pap machine that blows air into his upper airway to keep the airway open during his sleep, which is not easy for a toddler.

"We're still working on him with it 'cause he'll take if off he'll pull it so I have to keep putting it back on throughout the night," Ray said.

"As you can imagine something blowing in your face all night some youngsters don't like that and it's a difficult therapy even for adults to get adjusted to," said Dr. Tamez.

Unlike adults, children's snoring and sleep apnea are most often caused by enlarged tonsils or adnoids, but Dr. Tamez said only about 80 percent of children are cured by getting those removed. Nasal congestion is another culprit.

In Trevor's case the good news is he may not have to wear a C-pap indefinitely. "For children they can improve in time by doing these things but also by growing and that's what we're hoping will be the case with Trevor."

For now, Ray says Trevor is not just sleeping more soundly, but he's also more attentive during the day and more energetic. "I feel like he's more well rested. I do see a difference."

Sleep apnea symptoms in children:

- Snore loudly and on a regular basis

- Have pauses, gasps, and snorts and actually stop breathing. The snorts or gasps may waken them and disrupt their sleep.

- Restless or sleep with their head in unusual positions

- Sweat heavily during sleep

During the day, a child with sleep apnea may:

- Have behavioral, school and social problems

- Be difficult to wake up

- Have headaches during the day, but especially in the morning

- Be irritable, agitated, aggressive, and cranky

- Be so sleepy during the day that they actually fall asleep or daydream

- Speak with a nasal voice and breathe regularly through the mouth