Snoring: A serious health risk

13 July 2019

Snoring: A serious health risk

Hearing a person snore while they are sleeping is common, including children. However, it is unusual for a child’s snoring to be loud and prolonged.

If children are snoring more than 3 times a week, they should be taken to see a paediatrician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to avoid breathing problems during sleep or obstructive sleep apnoea.

Such complications will affect their sleep cycle due to breathing restrictions and decreased oxygen levels in the blood. This causes their sleep to be disturbed due to frequent waking up, poor sleep and drowsiness.

Worryingly, it also increases the risk of developing more serious disease complications such as weak heart (on the right side) and high blood pressure at a young age.

The problem usually occurs in children aged 2 to 8 years because the lymphoid tissue, namely the tonsils and adenoids is growing during that age. The growth of tonsils and adenoids is a natural process, but their size can increase due to frequent infections.

Sunway Medical Centre Consultant Paediatrician and Respiratory Physician, Dr Norzila Mohamed Zainudin said a study found that 4% to 9% of children worldwide suffer from snoring and that snoring is caused by small or narrowing of the airways.

“During sleep the muscles relax a little causing the airways to become smaller and narrower. This situation is normal and applies to anyone. However, when the airways become narrower it causes the palate to vibrate and produce sound. The narrower the airway, the louder the snoring sound,” she said.

The main cause of snoring in children is due to lymphoid tissue problems, a condition where the tonsils and adenoids are too large. The task of lymphoid tissue is to fight infection as it produces antibodies for that purpose. As the tonsils enlarge, it can close off the child's throat and block the airways causing snoring.

“Large adenoids cause children to be unable to breathe and are forced to breathe through their mouth. Obese children tend to snore because of the fat and tissue accumulated in the neck which becomes thicker, covering the upper respiratory tract,” Dr Norzila said.

Snoring causes more serious problems in memory development and focus during learning due to poor sleep as the child is often waking up.

“Sleep is important for the growth and development of a child's brain. Snoring has an effect on dangerous diseases and also causes emotional stress,” Dr Norzila said.

Snoring can also be caused by chronic nasal allergies and abnormal facial structures such as in children with Down Syndrome who have a small jaw structure at the bottom.

“Children with muscular problems such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are also at risk of snoring because these patients experience symptoms of weak muscles throughout their body, including the neck muscles narrowing the airways leading to snoring,” Dr Norzila said.

However, the loudness of snoring is not a benchmark of the seriousness of the problem.

“Parents need to be aware of how many times the child snores in a week or sleeps with his or her mouth open. If so, they are having trouble breathing while sleeping therefore their sleep position needs to be monitored.

“There are cases of obese children who are forced to sleep on their stomach due to the narrowing of the airways.  In serious conditions, oxygen levels can decrease during sleep and there are cases where oxygen levels have dropped to below 70% causing complications,” Dr Norzila said.

The normal reading for oxygen levels is 95% and above which can be detected with a machine that monitors oxygen in the blood. A diagnosis by a specialist is needed to treat snoring.

Source: Berita Harian