Can a Child Have Sleep Apnea?

Can a Child Have Sleep Apnea?


Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder where your child's airway collapses when they sleep, causing their oxygen levels to drop. This can make it harder for your child to breathe correctly when they sleep. Sleep apnea can be dangerous if left untreated. Sleep apnea is more common in children with cleft lip and cleft palate.

To treat sleep apnea, doctors usually recommend a mask that uses pressure to open your child’s airway. CPAP devices are one example of a pressure mask. These masks are usually very effective at treating the problem—but of course, this treatment only works if your child wears the mask. In children with cleft lip and palate, some medical professionals are concerned that the mask can hinder (or harm) your child’s facial growth.

Using Surgery to Treat Sleep Apnea

Instead of choosing the mask treatment, some families choose surgery as a way to improve their child's sleep. If you do choose surgery, the first step is giving your a sleep test that will help your surgeon understand how severe your child's sleep problem is.

Drug-Induced Sleep Endoscopy

Next, your surgeon will need to understand how your child's airway collapses. To do this, your surgeon will give your child anesthesia and then use a small, flexible camera to watch your child’s airway collapse as they drift off to sleep. This test is called drug-induced sleep endoscopy. An anesthesiologist will give your child safe medication to help them sleep, and your surgeon will use a camera to look inside your child’s throat.

While the fundamentals of sleep surgery remain the same: identify and treat the site or sites of obstruction. But there are some important differences when we treat children with cleft lip or palate.

For example, if you child needs jaw surgery, we may be able to change how we usually perform jaw surgery so we can both:

  • improve your child's facial appearance
  • and improve their sleep apnea at the same time.

As cleft surgeons, we use subtle but important changes during surgery planning so we can give your child the best results.

Sleep Apnea & VPI

If your child has sleep apnea combined with cleft speech problems (like velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI), this adds other challenges. Most surgical treatment for VPI narrows your child’s airway behind their palate, but this can give your child a higher chance of developing sleep apnea.

If your child has VPI, we often have to improve your child’s airway before we can improve your child's speech. This adds another step in your child's treatment plan, but there usually aren't many other alternatives. For more information, please read more about VPI.

Experts in Treating Sleep Apnea

Our pediatric facial plastic & ENT surgeons have expertise in treating children with advanced pediatric sleep apnea. We also have expertise in surgically treating sleep apnea in children who don't tolerate positive pressure devices (like CPAP).

We understand the important differences in how to improve the airway in children who have a history of a facial cleft. For example, removing the tonsils and adenoids must be done carefully in children with cleft palate because they have higher chances of developing velopharyngeal insufficiency.

Many children with sleep apnea who need surgery are medically complicated. We tailor our treatments to your child's airway problem, giving them the best recovery and results.

Find a Pediatric ENT Surgeon

Please enter a valid zip code or city, state.

Are you looking for an ENT or a Plastic Surgeon?