Sleep apnea is a common and potentially serious sleep disorder in which your breathing is repeatedly interrupted while you sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease while increasing your likelihood of stroke and heart attack.
Sleep apnea can affect toddlers, children, and adults, although some of the identifying symptoms are different depending on your age.
Here’s everything you need to know about the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea.
If a number of these 13 signs describe you, then there’s a good chance you may have sleep apnea.
- You snore loudly.
- Your bed partner says that you snore and sometimes stop breathing when you sleep.
- You sometimes wake up abruptly with shortness of breath.
- You sometimes wake up choking or gasping.
- You often wake up to use the bathroom.
- You wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
- You often wake up with a headache.
- You have insomnia (difficulty staying asleep).
- You have hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness).
- You have attention, concentration, or memory problems while awake.
- You are irritable and experience mood swings.
- You have risk factors for sleep apnea, such as being overweight or obese, drinking alcohol, or smoking tobacco.
- You have a decreased interest in sex or are experiencing sexual dysfunction.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 10 to 20 percent of children who snore may have sleep apnea. Overall, an estimated 3 percent of children have sleep apnea.
Many children with untreated sleep apnea have behavioral, adaptive, and learning issues that are similar to the symptoms of ADHD:
- difficulty with learning
- poor attention span
- poor performance at school
Look for these warning signs of sleep apnea in your child:
- mouth breathing (while asleep and awake)
- breathing pauses during sleep
- daytime sleepiness
If you think your toddler may have a sleep disorder, look for these warning signs of sleep apnea while they’re sleeping:
- snoring and difficulty breathing
- pauses in breathing
- coughing or choking
- sweating profusely
You can also look for the following signs while they’re awake:
- prone to irritability, crankiness, and frustration
- falling asleep at inappropriate times
- tonsil- or adenoid-related health problems
- growing more slowly than they should (both height and weight)
If you have the warning signs of sleep apnea, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. They might have some advice tailored to your specific situation or they might recommend you to a sleep specialist. They can perform a sleep study, or polysomnogram, to help diagnose sleep apnea. This test monitors many things like brain waves, eye movement, breathing, and oxygen levels in the blood. Snoring and gasping sounds, as well as stopping breathing during sleep, are also measured.
If your child is showing the signs that indicate sleep apnea, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. Following diagnosis, your pediatrician should have a number of suggestions regarding treatment. Often they will refer you to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) to see if removing the tonsils and adenoids could solve the issue.
If you have seen signs of sleep apnea in your toddler, review your observations with your pediatrician. Their diagnosis will include the impact of your toddler’s weight and potential allergies on their sleep. After examining your toddler’s upper airway, the pediatrician might refer you to a pulmonologist (a lung specialist) or an otolaryngologist. Removing your toddler’s tonsils and adenoids could be the recommendation.
Sleep apnea is more common than you might think. And it’s not just limited to adults. If you, your child, or your toddler are showing the warning signs of sleep apnea, there’s a risk of serious health consequences. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns, symptoms, and potential treatment.