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Causes and Treatments for Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea


Enlarged Tonsils and Adenoids

One of the more common causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children due to tonsils and adenoids. Tonsils and adenoids can be affected by recurrent infections of the nose and throat and enlargement. Enlargement causes breathing, swallowing and nasal obstruction. Chronic tonsillitis can cause swelling and a foul smell. Cancer of the tonsils can also cause swelling, but tonsil cancer is very uncommon.



Signs of tonsillitis include:

  • Redder than normal tonsils
  • A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • A slight voice change due to swelling
  • Sore throat, sometimes accompanied by ear pain.
  • Uncomfortable or painful swallowing
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Fever
  • Bad breath


Signs of enlarged tonsils or adenoids include:

  • Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose most of the time
  • Nasalization of sounds (Nose sounds blocked when the person speaks)
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Noisy breathing during the day
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Snoring at night
  • Chocking on food when trying to swallow food


Infected tonsils and adenoids are first treated with antibiotics. If the child has recurrent infections despite antibiotics, a tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy may be suggested. Tonsillectomy is the removal of the tonsils and adenoidectomy is the removal of the adenoids.


Cancer of the tonsils requires early detection and aggressive cancer therapy.


Large Overbite

A large overbite is also a common cause of obstructive sleep apnea. A lower jaw that is resting farther back than normal can restrict the airway. Overbites can also form due to excessive thumb sucking or pacifier use.


Treatments for overbites include use of multiple dental appliances (functional jaw orthopedics) to move the lower jaw into the correct position. This can be done with the use of functional jaw appliances (ex. Hawley, bionator, bite block, twin block, ALF, jaw expander). This helps to open the airway and teaches the jaw to stay in the position so that it will remain open in the future.



It is impossible to determine how long an overbite correction may take without a complete orthondontic consultation and diagnostic workup.


Birth Defects

Birth defects such as Down Syndrome or Pierre-Robin syndrome may also cause obstructive sleep apnea due to enlargement of certain structures like the tongue and jaw. It is important to talk with your doctor for treatments related to birth defects because every case is different.


Please feel free to contact us if you require more information.



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