Snoring is a very common issue for adults, especially with increasing age. But what about snoring in children?
Parents are often surprised to hear their child snoring. It can also be quite a shock to hear just how loud a child’s (even a toddler’s) snoring can be. Yet, according to the Royal Children’s Hospital (Melbourne), as many as 15-20% of children do snore, some habitually.
Good quality, adequate sleep is essential for childhood physical and mental development and health. While snoring in children is certainly not uncommon, it can sometimes be a cause for concern – and understanding why your child snores is very important. While most cases are periodic and harmless, others can be more serious and may require medical intervention.
What are the Main Causes of Snoring in Children?
Almost everybody will occasionally snore. As with adults, when children fall asleep, their muscles relax. This relaxation of the tissues in and surrounding the mouth and throat can elicit snoring, as the air can’t flow as smoothly through the upper airways. As long as this is occasional, minor, and of short duration, it generally has little measurable impact on one’s overall health or sleep quality.
But not all snoring is the same, and this is as true for our kids as it is for adults. The severity, frequency, cause, and impact of snoring in children can vary greatly.
- Primary Snoring occurs without any other symptoms. It is the light, temporary snoring mentioned above that is usually little cause for concern. For children who do snore, 70% are experiencing primary snoring.
- The most common cause of snoring (and obstructive sleep apnoea) in children is large or swollen tonsils and adenoids. These glandular tissues are located at the back of the throat (tonsils) and behind the nasal cavity (adenoids) and are part of the immune system. They swell in response to allergies and infection, and many children do have chronically enlarged tonsils and adenoids. While most people’s tonsils and adenoids will shrink by early adulthood, they can experience frequent or chronic inflammation/infections and they can also obstruct the airways, causing snoring and disordered sleep.
- Congestion is another common cause of childhood snoring. Swollen, inflamed nasal passages prevent smooth airflow for nasal breathing.
- Obesity and being significantly overweight statistically increase a child’s risk of snoring, just like they do for adults – especially when extra fat is carried in the neck, as this contributes to narrowed airways.
- Asthma and allergies can inhibit normal breathing due to inflammation of the throat and/or nose. This may provoke snoring.
- Anatomy can vary between people and some are born with or develop (e.g., due to injury) characteristics that can contribute to snoring. These may include, for example, a deviated septum, a floppy uvula, a larger-than-average tongue, or a cleft palate or lip.
- Air quality plays a role in irritated and inflamed airways and associated snoring. This can be from exposure to tobacco smoke, atmospheric pollution, and other contaminants.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnoea affects 2-3% of children in Australia. It is a serious medical condition requiring proper diagnosis and management.
- Children with disorders such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and sickle cell disease have an increased prevalence of snoring.
Should You be Concerned if Your Child Snores?
If your child snores only occasionally, or for very short periods, it is likely not a cause for alarm. Severe or frequent snoring, however, is a sign that a visit to your GP is warranted.
Frequent snoring that disrupts sleep (of the snorer or their household) can be a sign of sleep-disordered breathing, and this varies in severity and level of concern. While not as serious as obstructive sleep apnoea (see below), habitual snoring does carry health risks to children.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), though not common in children, can occur and is of significant medical concern. It causes major disruption and disturbance to sleep and can seriously impact the quality of life of the child and their future health. Obstructive sleep apnoea can affect children as young as the toddler years.
The impacts of snoring in children may include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Chronic sore throat
- Cognitive impairment
- Memory, concentration, and learning issues
- Mood issues/irritability
- Behavioural issues; there may be a link with ADHD
- Cardiovascular implications
- Disruption to the sleep of parents/siblings
When to Get Help for your Child’s Snoring:
- Snoring three or more nights per week
- Snoring is loud and disruptive to others
- Your child sleeps with mouth open and neck or chin extended
- Pauses or gasps when sleeping
- Daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Concentration or learning difficulties
- Irritability, aggression, crankiness
- Frequent daydreaming or “zoning out”
- Blueish skin
- Bedwetting (this can occur alongside snoring)
- ADHD diagnosis
- Failure to thrive or below-average weight gain for their age
Childhood Snoring – Treatment Options
The approach to managing childhood snoring depends on its cause. Consult with your GP as the first step to understanding and addressing the issue.
- If snoring is infrequent and minor, it is usually self-limiting and, for a lot of children, even habitual non-severe snoring will resolve on its own.
- Treatments for allergies or asthma can improve snoring by reducing inflammation and irritation in the airways. Removing potential allergens (e.g., pets, feather pillows) and using a humidifier may help.
- Sleep hygiene is important – including setting a consistent sleep schedule, reducing exposure to light and screen time before bed, maintaining a quiet, comfortable bedroom, and encouraging side sleeping.
- If chronically enlarged/inflamed/infected tonsils or adenoids are found to be the cause of your child’s snoring, surgical removal or partial removal may be recommended. A paediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon referral is warranted.
- Your doctor may recommend that you implement lifestyle changes for an overweight or obese child to not only improve their snoring but also their general health and quality of life.
- If obstructive sleep apnoea is suspected, an in-depth sleep study and testing will be required and specific strategies to manage and treat the issue will be prescribed, including regular follow-up. OSA is a serious condition and your child’s future health and longevity rely on as early intervention as possible. Most children with OSA will have their tonsils and adenoids removed; CPAP is usually reserved in children for cases where OSA persists after recovery from this surgery.
Some children may outgrow OSA.
At the end of the day, you want your child to be as healthy and happy as they can be. By addressing habitual snoring in your child, you are giving them the gift of better quality, more restorative sleep and potentially addressing other health concerns before they can cause bigger issues.
Effective Anti-Snore Device for Adults – SnoreMD
If you are an adult who snores, there are other options to help reduce snoring. SnoreMD is one of these.
SnoreMD is a mandibular advancement device. A type of anti-snoring device, it is worn in the mouth during sleep and it gently moves the lower jaw slightly forward. This helps to open the airways and promote smoother breathing.
SnoreMD is strictly suitable only for use by adults over the age of 18 years.