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Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea? 
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition marked by interrupted breathing during sleep. It occurs because of partial or complete obstruction of the airways during sleep due to structural or neuromotor abnormalities. The interrupted breathing may lead to drop in oxygen levels in the blood during sleep, as well as to poor sleep quality. In children, obstructive sleep apnea is usually associated with enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, but can be also associated with obesity, diseases affecting the central nervous system and the muscles, as well as with abnormalities of the shape of the head, neck and mouth. Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to learning and behavioral problems, as well as to heart and lung problems in severe cases.



  • Loud snoring 
  • Gasping during sleep
  • Abnormal movement during sleep
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory, concentration or learning problems
  • Irritability



  • Exam of the throat, neck and tonsils
  • Sleep study (called polysomnography), a recording of brain activity, muscle movement, breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels and airflow to the lungs while a person is asleep. This is typically conducted in a specialized pediatric sleep facility within a hospital.



  • Surgery: In children, the leading causes of sleep apnea are enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, and the first line of treatment is surgical removal.Most children with sleep apnea are treated effectively by removal of the enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.
  • Breathing mask: Another treatment is wearing a special mask at night to ensure smooth airflow and uninterrupted breathing during sleep.

If sleep apnea is caused by another underlying condition, treatment of this condition is necessary. If the apnea is caused by brain anomalies, the child will be referred to a neurologist. If the apnea is related to a heart condition, a cardiologist will be involved in the care of the child.

When to Call for Help
Call your pediatrician if you notice any of the above symptoms in your child. 

At Hopkins Children’s, sleep apnea is treated by the Division of Otolaryngology in tandem with the Pulmonary Division. Depending on the cause of the sleep apnea, other specialists may be involved in the care of the patient.

External Links:

National Library of Medicine 

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute 

Johns Hopkins Medicine 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health