Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can affect children of any age as well as adults. In children, it is usually caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which are both glands in the back of the throat. These glands can become enlarged due to inflammation, frequent infection or genetics. As in adults, children’s muscles relax during sleep which can mean the soft tissue in the upper airway partially or fully collapses, blocking the airway. If the airway is already partially blocked by enlarged glands, the airway is much more prone to obstructions during sleep.
OSA is much less common in children than in adults; somewhere between 1-5% of all children have the condition. Obesity, like in adults, greatly increases the likelihood of developing OSA; around 60% of obese children have obstructive sleep apnoea. Other causes of OSA in children may be a recessed jaw, or overbite, certain shapes in the soft palette in the roof of the mouth, a large tongue or weakness in the tongue and throat muscles due to conditions such as down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Using sedatives or opioids or being around people who smoke can also contribute towards childhood OSA.
Childhood central sleep apnoea (CSA) is extremely rare and is caused by issues with the breathing controls in the central nervous system, which is usually only associated with rare genetic disorders in children. CSA differs from OSA in that it is generally not associated with snoring and the pauses in breathing is caused by the lungs periodically stopping pumping.