How does sleep apnea differ in children compared to adults?

How does sleep apnea differ in children compared to adults?

When it comes to sleep, apnea is often associated with adults, but this sleep disorder can also affect children. Understanding the differences between sleep apnea in children and adults is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you’re searching for a sleep clinic near you or seeking information on sleep apnea therapy, we are here to provide valuable insights into this condition.

Sleep Apnea in Children vs. Adults

While sleep apnea shares some common characteristics in children and adults, there are notable differences.

1. Causes and Risk Factors:

  • Children: Sleep apnea in children often results from enlarged tonsils, adenoids, and genetic predisposition. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can obstruct the airway, while obesity, though less common in children, can also contribute. This condition is more prevalent in children aged 3 to 6 due to the larger size of their tonsils and adenoids.
  • Adults: In adults, sleep apnea is frequently associated with obesity, but it can also result from factors such as age, gender (more common in men), family history, smoking, and alcohol consumption. It is often categorized as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or central sleep apnea (CSA).

2. Symptoms:

  • Children: Symptoms of sleep apnea in children may include snoring, restless sleep, frequent bedwetting, difficulty waking up in the morning, and daytime sleepiness. Behavioral problems and poor academic performance may also be observed.
  • Adults: Adults with sleep apnea commonly experience loud snoring, gasping for breath during sleep, abrupt awakenings, excessive daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches. OSA can also lead to mood changes, decreased libido, and difficulty concentrating.

3. Diagnosis:

  • Children: Diagnosing sleep apnea in children often involves a thorough evaluation of their medical history, a physical examination, and the assessment of symptoms like snoring, restless sleep, and daytime fatigue. Polysomnography, a sleep study, is commonly used to monitor a child’s breathing and other physiological parameters during sleep. Additionally, imaging studies like X-rays or endoscopy may be performed to identify anatomical obstructions, such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids, contributing to the condition.
  • Adults: Diagnosis in adults typically begins with a sleep assessment and may progress to a sleep study. A medical evaluation may also be necessary to identify underlying causes or coexisting conditions.

4. Treatment:

  • Children: Treatment options for pediatric sleep apnea may include procedures to eliminate enlarged tonsils, adenoids, weight management, and positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy in some cases.
  • Adults: Treatment of adult sleep apnea frequently commences with modifications to one’s lifestyle, which can include weight reduction, abstaining from alcohol and sedatives, and positional therapy. Additionally, healthcare providers may suggest interventions such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, or surgical procedures as part of the treatment plan.

5. Long-term Outlook:

  • Children: When addressed early and effectively, sleep apnea in children can often be resolved, allowing for improved sleep quality, behavior, and overall well-being. Regular follow-ups are essential to monitor progress.
  • Adults: The management of sleep apnea in adults is typically ongoing, and compliance with treatment measures is essential for upholding optimal health and minimizing the chance of associated complications, such as cardiovascular issues and daytime sleepiness.


Sleep apnea is a disorder that can potentially impact individuals of varying age groups, but there are distinct differences between how it manifests in children compared to adults. Recognizing these differences and seeking appropriate care is essential for addressing sleep apnea effectively. Whether you are looking for a sleep clinic near you or seeking guidance on sleep apnea therapy, Don’t hesitate to contact a sleep apnea clinic for more information and personalized advice. Palmetto Sleep provides informative content and support for better sleep health. Remember, early diagnosis and proper management can significantly affect the quality of life for children and adults affected by sleep apnea. We are here to help you achieve restful and rejuvenating sleep, ensuring your overall well-being.

Contact Us

For more information or to schedule your appointment, please contact us today. We look forward to welcoming you to our locations in Fayetteville, McDonough, Palmetto, and Zebulon, GA, and helping you achieve better sleep and health.