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Children's Health

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Removing Tonsils Helps Kids With Sleep Apnea: Study

Better slumber improved daytime energy and behavior, but not memory, learning, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- Swollen tonsils and adenoids are a major cause of sleep apnea in children, and while removing them did not improve attention, memory or learning for these kids, it did help them with sleep, behavior and quality of life, a new study finds.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep.

"There was a greater improvement in sleep with the surgery, and those improvements were likely responsible for the improvement in daytime functioning, energy levels and behavior," said lead researcher Dr. Susan Redline, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Earlier studies have found that sleep apnea is associated with mental problems, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Redline noted. Swollen tonsils and adenoids block a person's airways and restrict breathing, which is why they are the major cause of sleep apnea in children, Redline explained.

Sleep apnea causes a drop in oxygen levels, which some experts have thought may have a harmful effect on memory and learning, she said. "We thought that by opening the airway we might be able to see greater improvement in these areas," Redline explained.

Removing the tonsils and adenoids, in a procedure called an adenotonsillectomy, however, did not change memory and learning, she noted.

"There have been parents who are worried about their children snoring and sleep apnea, and have felt nervous that if they didn't rapidly do the surgery they might be exposing their child to poor school performance," Redline said.

This study, however, suggests that if a parent wanted to choose a more conservative approach of watchful waiting, there is no mental decline, she stated.

"Children who are having behavior problems, are feeling sleepy, are waking up un-refreshed in the morning and dragging during the day are much more likely to get a benefit from early surgery," Redline said.

The report was published online May 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine, to coincide with its planned presentation at the American Thoracic Society annual meeting in Philadelphia.

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