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Obesity can increase the risk of sleep apnea in children

sleep apnea in children treatment
sleep apnea in children treatment

While many people who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea suffer from the condition because of a genetic predisposition, there is a segment within this population whose sleep apnea could be stopped or at least greatly improved with simple lifestyle changes.  That segment is those who are moderately to severely overweight, and it includes a growing number of young people.
As more and more children gain weight to the point of obesity, we’ll be seeing more of them with sleep apnea.  Weight gain in youth is an unfortunate trend.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 reported that 17% (2.5 million) American children and young adults between 2 and 19 years old are obese.  That number is up nearly 300% since 1980.
It has been estimated that 60% of obese children have sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes a person’s throat to over-relax during sleep to the point that breath is temporarily cut off.  These “apneic episodes,” as they are called, can occur as many as 100 times during a night of sleep.  An episode can last as long as a minute.
In an obese child, there is more fatty tissue in the neck and throat area.  In all “normally” healthy people, the throat relaxes naturally when they sleep, but the brain sends signals to the throat to prevent it from closing completely.  Overweight children may have sufficient fatty throat tissue to override these signals.
Sleep apnea can seriously disrupt a child’s life at a time when he or she should be growing, exploring and enjoying every day with a freedom that will end when it’s time to go to work, raise a family and leave childhood behind.  While sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP machine, which provides continuous positive airway pressure through a breathing mask, curing the obesity problem, if that’s what’s causing the condition, is a much better form of treatment.
People with sleep apnea report several common symptoms: loud snoring, daytime lethargy and trouble focusing and concentrating.  Children during their learning years will be hampered if they’re tired and sluggish all the time.  Childhood sleep apnea has also been associated with sleep deprivation, learning difficulties and memory problems.
These symptoms (aside from snoring) result from decreased levels of oxygen reaching the brain because of the constant breathing stoppages.  Where sleep deprivation is concerned, a vicious cycle can be initiated: children who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to become obese; obesity can lead to sleep apnea; sleep apnea results in poor and decreased sleep.
The answer, of course, is for obese children to lose weight.  And in most cases, a child who is gaining weight isn’t going to take the situation in hand and make the necessary changes, so it’s up to the parents.  Mom and Dad should set good examples for their children by eating more healthy foods, eating less at each meal and participating in some sort of physical exercise daily.
Children model their parents, and if we’re to reverse the trend of childhood obesity – which leads to adult obesity and numerous serious health problems – the parents are the ones who must take charge and monitor their children’s eating and activity behaviors.  Doing so will lower the number of obese children and decrease the percentage (60) of them who have developed sleep apnea.
Doug Thomas is a freelance writer for The CPAP Shop, a leading retailer of CPAP machines, equipment and accessories used in the treatment of adult and childhood sleep apnea.  To learn more about The CPAP Shop, visit
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