Habitual snoring occurs in more than 10% of children under the age of 9. Generally this is a direct result of an anatomical issue. While it might sound like childhood snoring is “normal,” it could be indicative of something more. Here’s a look at what your child’s snoring might mean.
While most children tend to snore lightly from time to time (such as due to a respiratory infection), a fraction of children snore habitually. According to Medical News Today, habitual snoring entails snoring loud enough to be heard by a parent at least three to four times weekly. Additionally, the National Sleep Foundation makes a distinction between primary snoring and snoring that arises as a direct result of a sleep condition, like pediatric sleep apnea.
Causes of Primary Snoring
Medical News Today reports the following anatomical anomalies that result in primary snoring:
- Small jaws or airways that inhibit the passage of air
- Muscles and nerves that fail to sufficiently open airways
- Deviated septum (congenital or from injury)
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
Just like adults, underlying conditions may be causing snoring in your child. Allergies and respiratory infections can cause chronic nasal congestion that initiates snoring. These issues can generally be managed through antihistamines and other medication that controls the symptoms that cause snoring.
While primary snoring is more or less normal, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) can be cause for serious concern. Up to 3% of of children suffer from pediatric OSAS, which occurs when the muscles in the mouth and throat relax to such an extent that the tissues around main airways can actually narrow or completely clog the throat. Breathing is inhibited -- sometimes for up to a minute -- until the brain notices the lack of oxygen and wakes the body up to engage in breathing again.
Dangers of OSAS
OSAS (Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome) is problematic beyond the obvious. Constant waking and oxygen deprivation means the child isn’t getting enough quality sleep at night, which contributes to daytime issues. Research suggests links between OSAS, behavioral problems, ADHD-like symptoms, and even learning problems. Essentially, not getting sufficient sleep results in a nearly constantly sleepy kid.
Just like any other time a child gets exhausted, they call on reserves of energy that resemble hyperactivity in an effort to stay awake. This may lead to bedwetting, picking fights, an inability to focus, and other problematic behaviors. This interferes with social interactions, academic performance, inaccurate ADHD diagnoses, and trouble keeping up or acting out at school.
Biologically, the lack of oxygen and raised blood pressure during the night can cause frequent headaches in the morning (which can also impact learning). Kids with OSAS are more likely to have hypertension as adults. Perhaps most importantly, the frequent lack of oxygen interferes with brain development during extremely crucial years, damaging brain cells and cognition. Luckily, studies suggest that appropriate treatment can lead to significant improvements in all areas.