Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
Approximately 1-5% of children develop obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); although studies have shown obstructive sleep apnea to be relatively rare in children, it is also commonly underdiagnosed. The condition is also disproportionately prevalent in children from various racial backgrounds, and is being increasingly shown to increase risks for other conditions such as early cardiovascular issues, obesity, and insulin resistance, among others.
Now for the first time in a large birth cohort of more than 3,000 children, researchers demonstrated that severe lower respiratory infections in early life are strongly associated with the development of pediatric OSA.
The Sleep Research Society’s study showed that severe lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) in early life significantly increase the risk of a child developing OSA. Specifically, the study noted that children with a history of severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) LRTI during early infancy were twice as likely to develop OSA during the first 5 years of life than children without such history.
Researchers worked with a group of 3,000 children in the Boston Birth Cohort by collecting data on any child who was hospitalized with severe respiratory bronchiolitis during the first two years of life. The results were alarming: Children who had severe respiratory bronchiolitis during infancy had two times higher odds of developing OSA by five years of age, when compared to children without such exposure.
What is significantly notable about the findings of this study is the opportunity to update the model for early diagnosis of pediatric OSA. And while the treatment of OSA depends on the severity of the case, this new knowledge may allow for earlier intervention and treatment.
This study’s findings support those of others in this area, which have examined OSA in other smaller cohorts of children. This is the first of its kind, however, to demonstrate the strong association between severe respiratory infections with development of pediatric OSA, particularly in such a large group.
Establishing this connection in a large cohort “motivates further research to establish whether early life LRTI could be a cause and/or a marker of an underlying susceptibility to OSA in the pediatric population.”
While OSA affects all those diagnosed with it, the symptoms appear differently in children. Snoring is a universal symptom, but children are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues — these may include difficulty concentrating or hyperactivity. Other OSA symptoms in children during sleep can include coughing, night sweats, sleep terrors, and bedwetting.
Decreasing OSA rates in children could reduce health-related costs and improve the well-being and sleep quality of hundreds of thousands of children and families affected by this serious condition.