Can babies have obstructive sleep apnea? What are some signs I should look out for?
Yes, babies can have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). They can have upper airway obstruction including the intermittent blocking (or obstruction) of the upper airway in sleep, which can lead to pauses in breathing (obstructive sleep apnea). Unlike older children and adults, infants often do not snore and can quietly stop breathing for short periods. Parents sometimes notice pauses in breathing during sleep, and in severe cases, color change such as blueness in the lips. Airway obstruction can also occur in infants when they are awake. This is usually due to an underdeveloped and sometimes floppy voice box that causes the airway to collapse, leading to pauses in breathing. Instead of a snoring sound, you may hear a high-pitched sound, which is often called “stridor.”
The medical term for this floppy or underdeveloped voice box that can cause stridor is laryngomalacia. Babies can sometimes have both laryngomalacia and OSA, but a sleep study is necessary to test for OSA. Regardless of whether or not your baby snores or has stridor, be sure to contact your health care provider if you are concerned about your baby’s breathing at any time of the day or night. If your baby has pauses in breathing, looks like s/he is working hard to breathe, or has noisy breathing, it is worth a call to your health care provider. If necessary, your health care provider may refer you to a Pediatric Sleep Specialist and/or an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor).