A Tonsillectomy To Fix Sleep Apnea?

While most people associate sleep apnea and the common symptom of disruptive snoring with adults, even children can be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). But what many people may not know is that sometimes sleep apnea can be corrected through surgery. Specifically, a tonsillectomy, even for children diagnosed with sleep apnea, can improve patient outcomes and lead to quieter nights.

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Understanding the causes of sleep apnea

Most people know that sleep apnea is caused by an airway blockage. As a result, sometimes people with the condition stop breathing for short periods while sleeping. Sleep apnea can occur in 2-5% of children and is most often seen between 2-6 years old. In children, the most common cause of sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils or adenoids. While larger tonsils or adenoids aren’t usually a problem during the daytime, muscles in the neck relax at night, allowing for tissues in the throat to potentially block the airway.

Determine the type of snoring

Keep in mind, though, that not every sleep apnea diagnosis is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Likewise, not all snoring is related to sleep apnea or needs to be treated with surgery. Specifically, a pediatrician or ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) will want to determine whether a child is experiencing primary snoring or a more severe form of snoring that will require medical interventions. According to the Sleep Foundation, primary snoring is when an individual snores 2 or more times in a week without any additional symptoms or health conditions. However, medical opinions about primary snoring are changing as more research is conducted, and many experts believe that even patients with primary snoring can benefit from having a tonsillectomy.

Tonsillectomies and snoring

Tonsillectomies are usually reserved for children with more severe forms of sleep apnea. And the surgery will only be recommended if a physician or ENT confirms that enlarged tonsils are the culprit behind a child’s sleep apnea. Tonsillectomies are fairly common surgeries that can be completed between 20-30 minutes. A surgeon may choose either to perform a traditional tonsillectomy where both tonsils are completely removed or an intracapsular tonsillectomy where only specific tonsil tissue is removed. Sometimes, an intracapsular tonsillectomy is preferred for children because recovery times are faster, with less pain, and a reduced need for pain medications. While many kids can go home the same day after surgery, children under the age of 3 or with a sleep apnea diagnosis will usually stay overnight.

Solutions for pediatric sleep apnea

While tonsillectomies are a treatment option for pediatric sleep apnea, the procedure isn’t a solution for every snoring scenario. Parents who think that a child has sleep apnea should speak to a pediatrician to seek a proper diagnosis. If a child has sleep apnea, and a physician or ENT confirms that enlarged tonsils are causing the condition, a tonsillectomy may be recommended. Knowing what to expect during and after the surgery and during the recovery period can help parents to keep children calm and prepared for the experience. For more information, speak with a pediatrician or ENT.

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