Infant Sleep Apnea
It is a disorder of breathing during sleep causing short breathing pauses (a few seconds), which can decrease oxygen levels and bring about sleep disruption. Apnea in young infants is uncommon yet can affect premature babies due to their lack of development at birth but is usually temporary. In general, these babies begin to breathe automatically after the pauses, and as they develop the episodes usually cease. In rare cases babies can have prolonged pauses, which could be a sign for underlying physiological disorders.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a type of apnea caused by an obstruction to the airway such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids. This is a rare condition in infants and while it can develop during the toddler/preschool years there is still only a small percentage of these children who present with symptoms. Sleep symptoms include snoring, laboured breathing, gasping, restlessness and possible constant night waking.
Our Family Experience with OSA
While I say this type of sleep apnea is rare in infancy, our family has had first hand experience with this condition as one of my beautiful children suffered with it. This is a story about how medical science has improved in twenty years but also about parents' intuitiveness, knowing when something is wrong.
Our second son was a healthy full-term baby but by 5 months he began to wake at night. By waking I mean screaming ... and it was not just one episode per night!!!! Our saving grace was that he could be soothed and would return to sleep. Of course our first stop was our general practitioner (GP), then a paediatrician who could find no possible reason as to why this perfectly healthy baby woke up to 4-5 times a night (as OSA was not a 'recognisable' medical diagnosis back then). Two other GPs and paediatricians were consulted all with no answers. This went on ... and on!
Then by the time he was about 18 months old he had a sore throat. Back to the GP we went. He looked in his throat and discovered what enormous tonsils he had and not just because they were inflamed. My immediate reaction was to ask if this could be causing him to snore and wake up at night as by now I had been doing my own research into infants' night waking. His answer was 'No'. I took our son back to a paediatrician who did recognise that his tonsils were abnormally large but this was not a medical reason as to why they should be taken out!
We continued to struggle for many years with the thought that nobody would recognise the need for medical intervention, and with my darling son waking at night. By school age it was affecting him with his level of energy, and he began to wake up with a headache in the mornings. Finally, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist was consulted who recognised our son's symptoms as being those of OSA. His tonsils and adenoids were removed ... and our son has not missed them!!!