Snoring is commonly associated with adults. Often, the images that come to mind when you mention this word are of fathers in their favorite chair, fast alseep with their heads rolled to one side, snoring as the TV in front of them blares on, or of brothers, roommates and friends sprawled over their beds after a long night of partying, snoring into their pillows and rumpled sheets. Occasionally, you may also recall older sisters or girlfriends during sleepovers who roused you from sleep with their almost man-like snoring, even as they lie primly on the bed with their hair carefully arranged over the pillow and eye masks covering their eyes.
But while these scenes do take place in real life and will often inspire humor and jokes, it's also important to note that snoring can be caused by serious health conditions — and that even small children can snore, too.
When small children snore
Why do children snore? Generally, snoring occurs when air cannot flow freely through the nose, mouth and throat. The throat vibrates because of the uneven or restricted flow of air, and this makes the snoring sound. Reasons for the obstruction of air can include weak throat and tongue muscles, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, excessive tissue around the throat (caused by obesity), congested nasal passages, or structural issues like long uvulas, a long and soft palate, a small chin, an overbite, or deformities in the nose.
From the age of three years, some children may experience snoring during deeper sleep stages; this can be referred to as primary snoring, and is not typically associated with serious health conditions. For otherwise healthy children, however, regular and loud snoring at night can be a sign of conditions like an allergy or stuffed nose, a respiratory infection, or obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS).
Is it sleep apnea?
If a child snores through the night and, in addition, suffers from breathing problems (like gasps or pauses in breath while sleeping), he may have OSAS. His muscles may become so relaxed during sleep that the airway is obstructed and his breathing may pause for a few seconds or even as long as a minute. The child's gasps and snorts as he starts breathing again can rouse him from sleep, and if this happens repeatedly through the night, he will be unable to get enough rest. As a result, he may be difficult to wake up in the morning, and throughout the day he can feel sleepy, irritable, agitated, or have headaches that can affect his activities.
Going to a doctor or sleep specialist
The child can be taken to a sleep center where a doctor will conduct a test to monitor him as he sleeps — special machines will be used to check his heart rate, eye and chest wall movements, the flow of air through the nose, and his oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
After properly diagnosing the child's condition, the sleep specialist can recommend the correct snore solution. It could be a specific lifestyle change, such as establishing a regular sleep pattern, observing a better sleeping position, or losing weight if the child has excess weight. The doctor could also recommend snoring solutions that can help open airways, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, a mask-like device worn while sleeping, or innovatively designed mouthpieces that can properly position the tongue and soft palate for improved breathing at night.