Does Everyone in Your Family Have Sleep Apnea?
February 10, 2010
More and more often, I'm coming across entire family members that are on CPAP for sleep apnea, or undergoing various other treatments for this condition. If one parent has sleep apnea, your children have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea, but if both parents have it, then it's safe to assume that your children will have it too, given that fact that they inherit your facial anatomy.
As I describe in my book, Sleep, Interrupted, all modern humans are on a continuum, where we're all susceptible to breathing problems at night. Only the end extreme is called obstructive sleep apnea. Since sleep apnea is caused by narrow facial structures, young children and even infants can have it too. Many of the various childhood maladies, such as frequent colds, ear infections, bedwetting, night terrors, and even ADHD are probably related to poor breathing and inefficient sleep, aggravating inflammation in the upper airways. There's even speculation that the rate of autism increased after doctors recommended placing infants on their backs during sleep. It's not surprising then, that parents of autistic children are found to have a higher rate of obstructive sleep apnea.
Most young children are treated with tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy for their sleep apnea, and many children do very well. However, about 1/3 who undergo tonsillectomy don't improve significantly. These are the children that probably have smaller jaws. Smaller jaws leads to more reflux and inflammation, leading to enlarged tonsils, causing more frequent obstructions. In these children, rapid palatal expansion was found to be equivalent to tonsillectomy. If you combine both procedures, the results were additive.
Some young children are able to tolerate CPAP, but for most, this is not a practical option. One advantage that children have over adults is the malleability of their jaws. Orthodontics can not only help to straighten teeth, but to expand the jaws as well. Traditional orthodontic dentists tend to remove teeth to make more room for the other teeth, but that ends up making the jaws even smaller. Forward thinking orthodontists make more room for the teeth by enlarging the jaws, both in the front to back and side to side dimensions. The earlier you start, the better the long-term results. Many dentists are beginning treatment as soon as the permanent teeth have come in.
Does everyone in your family have sleep apnea? If not, do you suspect that they all do? Please describe how you're handling this situation in the comments box below.