Sleep apnea is an increasingly common sleep disorder which now affects approximately 18,000,000 people in the USA alone. That represents approximately 6.62% of the population which does not take into account an estimated additional 2% to 4% of the population who are thought to have sleep apnea but who are as yet undiagnosed.
However, what a lot of people do not know is that there are also a surprisingly large and rising number of children who are suffering from sleep apnea, with estimates showing that around 2% of all children suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
In the case of children sleep apnea calls for particularly close attention as at this crucial stage of growth and development apnea can lead to learning, memory and IQ problems.
In a significant number of cases obstructive sleep apnea arises in no small measure from being overweight and the first line of attack in treating the condition is therefore to shed some weight. This however may not be as easy as it sounds and does not always reduce the problem enough.
For many children the next stage is the use of an oral appliance while sleeping. Oral appliances are custom made and fitted by an orthodontist and are intended to keep the lower jaw in a position that makes sure that the throat remains open while the child sleeps. Once again improvement is not always satisfactory and many children are less than happy wearing them.
The best option for treating obstructive sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine which provides a steady stream of air by way of a mask that is worn during sleep sleeping and which holds the airway open.
CPAP machines are very successful although, as with any treatment, they will only produce sound results if they are used properly and this is where we come up against a particular problem with children.
In a recently conducted study several children having CPAP treatment were monitored over a 6 month period to see just how closely they were following the medical advice given for the use of their CPAP machines. The group were subjected to sleep studies at the beginning and end of the evaluation period and they and their parents were questioned closely by researchers about their use of the CPAP machines. In addition, the machines which were used for the evaluation were all fitted with meters to record the use of the machines.
The study reported that over three quarters of the children did not make use of their machines as intended every night and that even those children who used the machines every night were using the machines for only about 5 hours each night which was not enough to gain the full benefit from their use. Possibly most importantly, bearing in mind the fact that a lot of the children being evaluated were very young and thus needed supervision to ensure the correct use of their machines, the study discovered that the overwhelming majority of parents overestimated their child’s use of the system by about two hours each night.
At this stage, despite the fact that it is evident that children are not receiving the full benefit of CPAP treatment, it is not clear exactly why they are failing to use the system correctly and additional studies are underway to see just what improvements can be made for the treatment of childhood obstructive sleep apnea.