Keep Kids Safer on the Street: Treat Your Child’s Sleep Apnea

“Look both ways! Use the crosswalk!”

If you are a parent, you have probably said something like this. You invest time and effort into helping your child learn to cross the street safely. If your child has sleep apnea, you have a unique opportunity. You can contribute to your child’s safety when crossing the street as you treat your child’s sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which sleepers stop breathing during the night. In addition to problems with breathing, people with sleep apnea often start their days feeling tired because they are not able to rest well.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a patient’s airway is blocked. Central sleep apnea occurs when a patient’s body is not consistently sending signals to the body’s respiratory system. Mixed is a combination of these two types. Sleepers of all ages can suffer from sleep apnea.

One key marker of sleep apnea is excessively loud snoring that occurs on a nightly basis. Other markers include:

  • Forgetfulness.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Feeling sleepy all day.
  • Waking up with a sore/dry throat.
  • Occasionally waking up while choking/gasping.

Please note that the only way to diagnose sleep apnea is by participating in a sleep study.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Sleep apnea is often treated with positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy. Positive airway pressure involves the sleeper receiving oxygen throughout the night. It can be used with any type of sleep apnea.

So, how does treating sleep apnea keep my child safer?

Like an adult, your child needs rest in order to function at peak capacity. Sleepy children are less able to complete their tasks and are less aware of what is going on around them. This lack of awareness is especially worrisome when your child needs to cross a street safely. A sleepy child may not notice a speeding car down the street or a car that is in reverse, even when looking both ways. Overlooking a single car can be the difference between carrying on with the day and a serious injury.

Where is the evidence?

David Schwebel of the University of Alabama conducted a study of 42 kids between the ages of 8 and 16. All 42 kids had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) through sleep studies. All kids played a virtual reality game that included crossing streets. Researchers measured the number of collisions that occurred in these simulations.

Kids ran through the simulations again after three months of PAP therapy. Those children who had consistently participated in treatment for their sleep apnea saw a significant reduction in the number of collisions by the virtual vehicles. Those children who were not treating their conditions consistently were 12 times more likely to be hit by a virtual vehicle during the simulations.

Researchers concluded that consistent treatment resulted in well-rested children who were more likely to cross streets safely.

If your child has sleep apnea, consistent treatment can improve your child’s ability to function throughout the day. It may even keep your child safer on dangerous streets.