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Sleep Apnea In Children


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Children grow, eat, sleep and develop at different speeds. Any doctor or parent will tell you this. So when Brenda and Todd Herman’s now three-year-old son had sleeping issues early on they didn’t think much of it. He was their second child, and the Hermans, who are Verona residents, figured the difficulties in sleep and resulting challenges in mood and disposition were developmental differences between their two children. As it turns out, it was much more than that.

From early infancy, Will was a “different” sleeper. He would wake up throughout the night, but he wasn’t hungry, wet, or otherwise uncomfortable. And while many children wake up happy and refreshed from a nap or a good night’s sleep, Will was upset, moody and irritated throughout the day. By the age of 17 months the irritation of waking during the night turned into full fits. As time went on, there was more and more “awake” time during the night complete with thrashing, kicking, and thumping. Additionally, Will wasn’t lucid during this time.  Both his parents and pediatrician thought he might be having night terrors, a completely normal occurrence in children 18 to 24 months old. I’ve experienced it myself, and while scary, it is relatively short-lived, like bad sleep walking.

With spring came a month of better sleeping and some night-time peace. Eventually though, Will started waking again during the night. There was no kicking or thrashing this time, but he was awake for long periods of time. The Hermans’ doctors didn’t see anything abnormal and suggested they “give it more time.”

They didn’t, and it has made all the difference. The Hermans entered Will in a sleep study, which showed that he had Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a condition in which the adenoids and tonsils can block airways. Will’s inability to breathe was waking him up and as a result, he was missing out on necessary stages of sleep. The Hermans had Will’s adenoids and tonsils removed, even though they were not abnormally enlarged. Within six weeks after recovering from the surgery, Will showed improvements in both sleep and behavior. His speech also improved: The blockages had affected his hearing and he had been pronouncing words as garbled as he was hearing them. After five months with Verona speech therapist, Elizabeth Giuffrida of West Essex Speech and Language Associates, Will was as caught up in speech as he was in sleep. (Giuffrida is building her Web site, but new patients can reach her at 973-857-7500.)

Building trust with a pediatrician is important for any parent. So is going with your gut: If you know something just isn’t right with your child, keep asking questions and getting second opinions. In the case of both Will and his parents, that seemed to be the best thing for everyone.

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  1. Well written Tracy. Will’s case was more the exception than the rule. Typically kids with OSA exhibit more common symptoms -snoring, many ear infections, even cavities in the front of their mouths from sleeping with their mouths open. It’s just important to keep on top of it. Our pediatrician was great and let us lead the way and trusted us when we thought things were getting to a point of no return. I had thought it could have been so many things than OSA which I had never heard of before I kept researching sleep disorders in kids. Trust your instincts and your kids. It’s much more common than I ever knew.


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