Nighttime breathing woes can lower grades, IQ scores, researchers warn
FRIDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The interrupted sleep, snoring, and nighttime breathing troubles associated with sleep apnea isn't just affecting adults -- kids can get the condition, too, experts say.
In fact, sleep apnea has recently been linked to lowered childhood IQ scores and an increase in learning problems. The condition is thought to be caused by a relaxation during sleep of soft tissue in the back of the throat, causing airway obstruction and frequent nighttime awakenings.
How many children are affected?
"There's no good data," said Daniel S. Lewin, director of pediatric behavioral sleep medicine at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. But he believes that about 2 percent to 3 percent of youngsters age two-and- a-half to five may have obstructive sleep apnea.
In up to 75 percent of cases, the condition can be cured by removal of either the tonsils or adenoids, the experts point out.
However, as the number of overweight or obese children increases, the number of pediatric sleep apnea cases may also rise, Lewin said. Fat deposits in the upper airway can contribute to breathing obstruction, he said.
And that could mean more trouble in school for affected children, added Dr. Ann Halbower, medical director of the pediatric sleep disorders program at the Johns Hopkins University Children's Center in Baltimore.
Halbower evaluated 31 children -- ages 6 to 16 -- 19 of whom had untreated severe sleep apnea. MRI scans showed that those children with sleep apnea had changes in two key brain regions associated with higher mental function -- the hippocampus and the right frontal cortex.
The children with apnea also had altered ratios of three brain chemicals possibly reflecting brain damage.
Those with apnea had lower average IQ test scores. "The control kids av
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