Sleep Apnea In Infants: Risks, Symptoms and Treatments
Latest update: September 25, 2018
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Is it normal when baby
snores or stops breathing for a while when
apnea in infants can be serious, even fatal: we must all
know the risks,
symptoms and find the right treatments.
apnea (breathing pauses due to brain signal failure) is the
most common type in infants below 1 year old. When baby
is under 6 months old, part of her normal
pattern is to pause
breathing from time to time. Up to 15-20 seconds is
said to be normal.
When your baby stops breathing for 20 seconds or
more it is time for action: consult your doctor. Other symptoms and signs include gasping for breath after the pause and
snoring. Some babies will turn blue-ish.
On the one hand, it is good to know that there is no need to worry when
your baby stops breathing for a short while.
But on the other hand,
there is the risk of leaving true sleep apnea in
babies undiagnosed all too often.
Who is at Risk?
All babies can be affected. However, there is
an increased risk
if your baby:
- is premature
- has Down syndrome
- is overweight
- has a birth defect
- has any condition that disturbs breathing
(airway blockage, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, ...)
- has reflux (gastrointestinal reflux)
Can sleep apnea cause death?
When infants stop breathing while asleep, the amount of oxygen in her
blood goes down. Also the heart rate can drop dramatically. All depends
on how the body reacts
to a breathing pause, and how she recovers from it.
In bad cases, an Apparent Life Threatening Event (ALTE) may occur. This
is when an affected baby survives a serious breathing pause.
After an ALTE of this kind, a monitor is usually prescribed to help
prevent future life threatening events.
The decreased oxygen levels and heart rate may also cause long term
Although some infants who suffered from Sudden
Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had previously suffered from nightly apnea, no definite proof of a link between the two has been shown .
Diagnosis of sleep apnea in infants
When you suspect that your baby may serious and too long breathing pauses, your doctor will do a
general physical examination. He will check heart rate and breathing
and also measure the amount of oxygen in baby's blood.
Then ideally a pediatric
sleep apnea specialist, in a dedicated pediatric center, will
suggest taking polysomnograms, either in the sleep lab or at home.
Overnight, a polysomnography monitors sounds (like snoring and gasping
for breath) but
also breathing, brain waves, muscle tension and oxygen levels.
Monitoring is the most commonly prescribed treatment for infants. A dedicated
then records respiration rate and heart rate and warns you when dangerous
levels are reached.
In some cases, medication is suggested to avoid the brain signal
failures that cause the apnea breathing pauses.
Further details on the treatment and solutions page.
About SIDS and Apnea at Stanford.edu.