Wake-up Call for Parents, Pediatricians
Halbower tells WebMD that the findings should serve as a wake-up call for both parents and pediatricians about the importance of treating sleep-breathing problems in children.
She adds that the importance of determining if the brain changes are permanent or can be reversed with effective treatment for sleep apneacannot be overemphasized.
Surgery is the treatment of choice for kids with enlarged tonsils and adenoids, and other treatments are available for those with restricted nighttime breathing due to other causes.
"These findings highlight the importance of recognizing and treating sleep-disordered breathing in children as soon as possible," Halbower says. "Sleep is critical for learning and brain function, so parents should not hesitate to discuss sleep disturbance with their child's pediatrician."
A child who snores regularly and also exhibits signs of abnormal daytime sleepiness, irritability, or hyperactivity may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea-related behavioral problems are often misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Atlanta mom Susan Williams is a believer. Her now 4-year-old daughter Zelda's severe sleep apnea led to speech delays and constant daytime sleepiness. Surgery six months ago to remove enlarged tonsils and adenoids has made all the difference, Williams says.
"She is a different kid," she says. "Almost immediately after the surgery her speech began to improve and she is much more alert during the day. It just makes sense that if a kid is not getting the oxygen they need then they aren't going to develop as well mentally or physically."