Would a Child with Sleep Apnea Need CPAP?

CPAP is the gold-standard therapy for adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

It is the most effective therapy, when used properly, at reducing or eliminating apnea events. CPAP therapy has been shown to prevent and even reduce the negative effects that sleep apnea can have on the body, including increased risk of death from heart problems.

We talk a lot about the use of CPAP for adults, but what about children? 

It is estimated that 2-3% of children suffer from sleep apnea. Can they benefit from CPAP therapy too?

The basics of sleep apnea and CPAP therapy

Obstructive sleep apnea is the partial or complete closure of the airway during sleep that results in a reduction of airflow lasting at least 10 seconds in length before the brain signals the person to wake, usually gasping for air. The person with sleep apnea may not realize that she or he is waking dozens of times per hour, but there is significant strain on the entire body from the repeated waking, disruption to sleep cycles and reduction in oxygen (read more about the effects of sleep apnea here). 

Obstructive sleep apnea is typically diagnosed with a sleep study, either in home or in a sleep center (read more about the difference between the two here) and can be treated with CPAP therapy, a device which blows pressurized air into the airway to keep it open during the night and prevent or reduce apneas (learn more about CPAP and how it works here).

Insurance coverage for CPAP

Most insurance companies will cover CPAP therapy for an adult with a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea when certain criteria is met:

  • Patient has an AHI greater than or equal to 15, or
  • Patient has an AHI of 5-14 with any of the following: excessive daytime sleepiness, impaired cognition, mood disorders,insomnia, treatment-resistant hypertension (persistent hypertension in a patient taking three or more antihypertensive medications), ischemic heart disease, history of stroke.

In a recent blog post, we covered what to do when a patient falls outside of the AHI requirements of some insurances, but may still benefit from the use of CPAP. You can read that post here.

What about children?

Children get selep apnea too. Read more about the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in children here.

For the most part, any snoring or gasping for air in a child indicates a health risk. In fact, while an adult with up to five apneas per hour is considered to be normal and would NOT have a diagnosis of sleep apnea, in children, as little as one apnea per hour is sufficient for a diagnosis of sleep apnea (read more about apneas and AHI here).

Many children with sleep apnea are recommended for surgery to remove their tonsils and/or adenoids, as these are often the cause of the snoring or apnea. Unlike adults, surgical treatment for children with sleep apnea is usually successful. But there are cases when surgery does not work and other treatment is needed.

Alternatives to surgery for children with sleep apnea

There are times when surgery for a child with sleep apnea is not appropriate. Some examples are:

  • Surgery was attempted, but was not successful in curing obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Surgery is not indicated because the patient has minimal adenotonsillar tissue.
  • The patient’s obstructive sleep apne is attibutable to another underlying cause such as craniofacial abnormality or morbid obesity.
  • Surgery is contraindicated

If surgery is not deemed to be an appropriate treatment, CPAP therapy can be attempted for a child under 18 years old.

What kind of sleep study does a child need to be diagnosed with OSA?

Children under 18 usually need to be diagnosed with sleep apnea from an in-center sleep study (not with at-home sleep apnea testing).

If the child has been titrated on CPAP in the sleep center, he or she may use a CPAP device that delivers a constant air pressure. Children are not typically candidates for APAP therapy (read more about the difference between CPAP and APAP here).

Is there special CPAP equipment for children?

The CPAP machine used by a child would be the same as an adult would use; however, the mask which sits on the child’s face and delivers the pressurized air into the airway would be much smaller. Mask manufacturers have designed CPAP masks specifically for a child’s smaller face and there are options for masks that cover the mouth and nose or only the nose (learn more about different types of CPAP masks here).

Are you concerned that your child may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea? Contact us if you would like to schedule a consultation, sleep study or CPAP set-up.

Request consultation

Request sleep study

Request CPAP appt.

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    Nice blog post. Thanks for share!

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    It is the most effective treatment for minimizing or eliminating apnea occurrences when used correctly.

  3. Giselle Young Reply

    It is the most effective therapy, when used properly, at reducing or eliminating apnea events.

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    Thank you for providing such useful information. I’ve been having trouble coming up with many questions about this topic. I’ll stick with you!

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    It is crucial that parents pay special attention to this for kids whose families have a history of this illness.

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    When used correctly, it is the most effective treatment for minimizing or eradicating apnea occurrences.

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    Given that the tonsils and/or adenoids are frequently the source of the snoring and apnea in children with sleep apnea, many of them should have surgery to remove them.

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    Constant positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices use masks to keep the airway open during sleep. CPAP is the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, the most prevalent kind.

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