How does the pathophysiology of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) differ between children and adults?

Updated: Feb 13, 2019
  • Author: Mary E Cataletto, MD; Chief Editor: Denise Serebrisky, MD  more...
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Childhood sleep apnea differs from adult obstructive sleep apnea in that adults with sleep apnea frequently present with hypersomnia, whereas children often demonstrate short attention spans, emotional lability, and behavioral problems. Obesity is a major risk factor in both adults and children. [1] Fatty infiltration of the pharyngeal soft tissues narrows the caliber of the upper airway and contributes to airway resistance. Although obesity plays a role in some cases of childhood sleep apnea, the airway obstruction is usually related to tonsillar hypertrophy, adenoid hypertrophy, or craniofacial abnormalities. Children with some types of neuromuscular disease (eg, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, cerebral palsy) may also have a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

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