MADISON - Doctors have known for years that adults with thick necks and weight problems are likely to struggle with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), an occasionally life-threatening condition in which the upper airway becomes constricted, interrupting an otherwise peaceful night of sleep.
Unfortunately, doctors are now learning something else: Like so many other health-related issues, what's true of adults is also becoming true of children.
"Excess weight makes an individual's airway smaller, and that can have a disruptive effect on a child's nighttime breathing," says Dr. Christopher Green, a UW Health pediatric pulmonologist who studies and treats the condition. "It's becoming a big issue."
OSAS more commonly affects children with Down Syndrome - in fact, they're 17 percent more likely to have it than children who do not have Down Syndrome. But Green believes the number of non-Down Syndrome children who have the condition is significant and growing, in part because it doesn't account for the spectrum of pediatric sleep disorders that affect children, from simple snoring and obstructive hypopnea (slow, shallow breathing) to upper airway resistance syndrome.
"Too frequently, parents and physicians either fail to recognize the problem, or believe that snoring or sleep apnea is something a child will grow out of," says Dr. Green. "But emerging research is showing substantial behavioral effects in children who experience nighttime obstruction, even in those who simply snore."
Those effects can include a long list of behaviors that can negatively affect school performance and socialization:
- Aggressive and/or antisocial behavior
- Difficulty with concentration, learning and memory
"As adults, we know that if we don't get an appropriate amount of sleep, we may not drive our car as well the next day, or perform well at work," he notes. "The same is true for children whose sleep patterns are disrupted."
To help parents and physicians recognize and address this growing problem, Dr. Green, along with Dr. Mark Kiehn, a UW Health craniofacial surgeon, has formed a Pediatric Sleep Apnea Clinic. Currently, the two treat patients at the Waisman Center in Madison two afternoons a month; in the fall, the clinic will expand its hours as it moves to a new location in UW Research Park to become part of the new Wisconsin Sleep Center.
Children who are battling obesity or have enlarged tonsils and adenoids are most at risk to develop OSAS. A sleep study can help to diagnose the condition, and, once recognized, multiple treatments can help to alleviate it. The first-line defense is surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoid glands.
"You have to take out both, or you won't fix the problem," says Green.
To learn more about OSAS and UW Health’s Pediatric Sleep Apnea Clinic, call (608) 263-9425.
Date Published: 06/20/2007