OSA in children

How is OSA diagnosed in children?

If your child has some or all of the symptoms of OSA, visit your doctor. They should ask you about your child’s symptoms, behaviour, general health and medical history. They may also refer your child for tests.

Visiting the doctor

It’s good to be prepared before your visit. It can help to take:

  • a completed form about your child's symptoms
  • a video recording of your child when asleep
  • observations, reports or notes about your child from the child-minder, nursery or school that might be relevant

If your doctor is not concerned but you are, keep observing and recording your findings and arrange another appointment if the symptoms don’t get better.

If your doctor thinks your child might have OSA they will refer them for assessment. Your doctor will know about the local services and where referrals are accepted.

Alternatively, they might want to try some initial treatments such as nasal drops or spray.

Assessment and diagnosis

Doctors might need to carry out more than one test to diagnose OSA.

  • Parental observations. Reports (including videos or recordings) by the parent or carer are a major source of information about a child’s sleeping pattern and symptoms.
  • Oxygen saturation monitoring measures the level of oxygen in the blood as the child sleeps. It involves having a small light sensor taped, usually, to a fingertip or toe. It is sometimes possible for this test to be done at home.
  • More complex tests. Oxygen saturation monitoring might help diagnose OSA, but on its own it can miss more complex cases. More detailed checks might be needed. These can include:
    1. levels of carbon dioxide (the waste gas we breathe out)
    2. breathing movements of the chest and tummy
    3. heart rate and rhythm
    4. airflow
    5. video and sound recording
    6. brainwave activity (EEG), although this is less common

Depending on your local facilities, these checks may be done either overnight in specialist sleep centres or at home. If your child needs to come into hospital, you can usually sleep in a bed next to your child during the assessment.

OSA in children symptoms form

Complete this BLF form before you visit a health care professional and take it with you to your child’s appointment.

Download our OSA in children form (PDF 406KB)

Next: How is OSA treated in children? >

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Download our OSA in children form (PDF, 182KB)

Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.