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Snoring in children – what to do when their lullabies keep you awake

Dr. Jan Wrede

Last update on 1. September 2020

Snoring in children is a quite common phenomenon. Studies have shown that about half of all children snore occasionally. As a result their sleep is not as restful as it should be and this can have some negative consequences. In addition, children often snore for different reasons than adults. Here is some advice on how you can prevent your little ones from snoring.


Studies  have shown that about half of all children snore occasionally and about 9% snore every night. Even 6% of infants snore at night. In contrast to adults, however, snoring in children is always an indication of an irregularity that should be clarified medically.

In many cases, polyps in the nasal passages are responsible for snoring – the child does not get enough air through the nose and unconsciously breathes through their mouth instead, which leads to snoring. Often snoring is caused by enlarged adenoids (pharyngeal tonsils). They constrict the airways and can also trigger snoring. If these causes remain untreated, this can lead to serious health problems in the long run.

In extreme cases, misdirected air currents can lead to growth disorders of the nasal passages and the oral cavity over the years, and thus lay the foundation for pathological obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in adults. OSAS, on the other hand, rarely occurs in infants. However, the diagnostic criteria for OSAS in children are much lower than in adults, two episodes of apnea (pauses in breathing) per hour are considered excessive, whereas up to 5 are considered normal for adults.


Sleep little child, sleep!

Everyone needs sleep. In the first stages of baby development, sleep is even the most important activity of the brain. The sleep cycles in newborns are still very irregular, but nevertheless important for processing what they have experienced. That is why newborns sleep between 10.5 and 18 hours a day!


When children snore – what can one do?

Snoring in children is a quite common phenomenon. Studies have shown that about half of all children snore occasionally. As a result their sleep is not as restful as it should be and this can have some negative consequences. In addition, children often snore for different reasons than adults. Here is some advice on how you can prevent your little ones from snoring.

Studies have shown that about half of all children snore occasionally and about 9% snore every night. Even 6% of infants snore at night. In contrast to adults, however, snoring in children is always an indication of an irregularity that should be clarified medically.

In many cases, polyps in the nasal passages are responsible for snoring – the child does not get enough air through the nose and unconsciously breathes through their mouth instead, which leads to snoring. Often snoring is caused by enlarged adenoids (pharyngeal tonsils). They constrict the airways and can also trigger snoring. If these causes remain untreated, this can lead to serious health problems in the long run.

In extreme cases, misdirected air currents can lead to growth disorders of the nasal passages and the oral cavity over the years, and thus lay the foundation for pathological obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in adults. OSAS, on the other hand, rarely occurs in infants. However, the diagnostic criteria for OSAS in children are much lower than in adults, two episodes of apnea (pauses in breathing) per hour are considered excessive, whereas up to 5 are considered normal for adults.


Sleep little one, sleep!

Everyone needs sleep. In the first stages of baby development, sleep is even the most important activity of the brain. The sleep cycles in newborns are still very irregular, but nevertheless important for processing what they have experienced. That is why newborns sleep between 10.5 and 18 hours a day!

This also makes it clear that it is particularly important for toddlers that their sleep is also rejuvenating. If this is not the case, for example because the child not only snores but also suffers from interruptions in breathing, there is a danger that it will not be optimally supplied with oxygen. When a child does not get enough sleep, it can impair his physical and mental development. The consequences can be many and varied, ranging from being underweight ( because the child has to breathe in against increased resistance during sleep and thereby consumes a lot of energy) to concentration problems ( because sleep is disturbed and the child is overtired). The latter can quickly affect performance at school. The proportion of children with poor school performance among snorers (approx. 30%) is almost twice as high as among non-snorers (approx. 16%).

Since the brain is still in the process of development at a young age, the lack of oxygen at night can lead to learning and development delays, especially in children who suffer from OSAS.


When children snore – what can one do?

Polyps

The reasons why children snore are mostly anatomical. Abnormalities of the upper respiratory tract, such as nasal polyps are a common reason for snoring in children. These are benign growths of the nasal mucous membrane that constrict nasal passage. However, these easily removed by means of a small operation.

Small children, large tonsils

In early childhood, the body’s immune system works overtime. The lymphatic pharyngeal ring is often the body’s first line of defence against germs that enter the body through the mouth or nose. It is made up of palatine, pharyngeal and lingual tonsils. The pharyngeal or palatine tonsils are especially prone to enlargement (hyperplasia) in childhood. This results in narrowed airways and causes snoring. A child with enlarged, almond shaped tonsils often needs to have them surgically removed, in order to improve their general health.

Obesity

Being overweight promotes snoring, when someone is overweight there are increased fatty deposits all over the body, including in the tissue of the pharynx (throat). This causes the airways to become even narrower.

Smoking

The proportion of snorers is also higher among children who smoke passively. Smoking damages the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat, inflammation and swelling can occur. This also negatively affects breathing and increases the risk of snoring.


A visit to the paediatrician

If you notice that your child snores frequently, you should discuss this with your doctor at your next visit. He or she can examine your child and, if necessary, refer him or her to an ENT specialist who will initiate the necessary therapy. This topic should also be dealt with routinely in your child’s preventive check-ups. Therefore, ask if there are typical symptoms that have not yet been addressed. Many problems such as concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and daytime fatigue are known to be associated with snoring (and in extreme cases, sleep apnea) in children.

Peer review by Dr. Christine Will, dentist at a renowned dental health and implantology practice in Nuremberg. Her area of specialisation includes snoring therapy.

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Dr. Jan Wrede

Medical Doctor, Berlin

Jan Wrede works as a medical doctor in Berlin. He studied medicine at FAU University in Erlangen-Nuremberg and Semmelweis University in Budapest. He had already written numerous scientific articles during his studies, especially on the subject of snoring.

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