What Causes Infant Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous condition where babies stop breathing for extended periods of time during their sleep. It occurs most often in premature babies, but is also seen in full-term babies.
So what’s behind this scary condition? We’ll explain what causes infant sleep apnea and how to know which type your baby might have.
Types of apnea
Your baby’s sleep apnea may be central, obstructive or mixed. The type of apnea is determined by its cause.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), cases of central sleep apnea, or CSA, occur when your baby’s body stops its own effort to breathe. This is most commonly caused by your baby’s brain being underdeveloped, as is the case with many infants born prematurely.
The brain essentially stops sending messages to the muscles to signal them to breathe.
In cases of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, a physical blockage of the airway causes breathing to stop. This can be caused by the soft tissues of the mouth and tongue relaxing too much, blocking the airway, or may simply be the result of a preemie’s very small airway.
It can also be caused by swollen tonsils or some other blockage in a baby’s throat. In obstructive sleep apnea, your baby’s chest and diaphragm begin to work harder to pull air into her lungs, which will often result in her starting to breathe again with a sharp gasp or choke.
Other sleep apnea causes
Other health factors and underlying conditions can cause or contribute to infant sleep apnea. According to the AASM, these conditions include:
- acid reflux
- metabolic disorders
- neurological problems
A small number of children who die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome experience apnea symptoms before death, however researchers have not named sleep apnea as a risk factor for SIDS.
Most babies who experience sleep apnea at a young age go on to develop normally, with symptoms disappearing as they get older. Even so, this is nothing to ignore if you notice potential apnea symptoms.
Complications from sleep apnea may lead to a lack of oxygen in your baby’s blood, a slowed heartbeat and even loss of consciousness. If left untreated, chronic sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications down the road.
Do you suspect your baby might have infant sleep apnea? Learn more about the reecommended Treatment Options for Infant Sleep Apnea. As always, your doctor should be your first resource in making a diagnosis or deciding on the best course of action.
Have a question only another parent can answer? Connect with other parents, ask questions and share advice by joining our free Facebook community, MonParents.