OSA in children

What is OSA in children?

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a breathing problem that happens when your child’s asleep.

It’s called OSA because:

Obstructive: there’s an obstruction in the airway of the throat
Sleep: it happens when your child’s asleep
Apnoea: this means your child stops breathing

When your child goes to sleep, their muscles relax, including those in the throat. In some children, especially those with enlarged tonsils or adenoids (small lumps of tissue at the back of children’s noses), the relaxed muscles cause narrowing, which can reduce the airflow. This makes them snore and breathe irregularly. This is more common in dreaming (REM) sleep which is more frequent in the second half of the night.

If your child’s throat closes completely, they stop breathing for a time. This is called apnoea. If the airways in their throat narrow, this is called hypopnoea.

When this happens, there may be a dip in the level of oxygen in the blood.

Your child’s brain will start them breathing again – often with a gasp or snort.

OSA can disturb the quality of sleep and cause irritability, poor concentration and sometimes drowsiness the next day.


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Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

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.