Signs of Sleep-Disordered Breathing In Adults and Children
“Knowing is half the battle.” -GI Joe
The goal of this blog post is to give you some tools so you can help yourself and your loved ones seek proper evaluation and treatment. The signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are like stars in a constellation. Once you start identifying the stars, you can see the constellation.
- Adults with sleep-disordered breathing will often have some of the following symptoms:
- Waking up tired and unrefreshed, no matter how many hours of sleep you get, excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Insomnia. Seems strange, but your body is actually trying to keep you awake so you don’t stop breathing while asleep.
- Waking up frequently during the night to go to the bathroom.
- While asleep, gasping for breath or pauses in breathing.
- Waking up gasping or choking
- Heartburn or waking up with stomach acid in your mouth.
- Frequent napping.
- Loss of interest in life, hobbies and intimacy.
- High blood pressure (adults)
- Hyperactivity/Attention Deficit Disorder (children)
- Morning headaches
- Trouble concentrating
- Depression & Anxiety
- Sleep difficulties
The American Dental Academy directed all dentists to screen patients for sleep-disordered breathing in 2017—just like dentists have been asked for years to screen every patient for oral cancer. When your dentist screens you for sleep-disordered breathing, here are a few things they should be looking for (be prepared for a yucky tongue picture below, haha!):
- Difficulty lying back to receive dental procedures
- Tooth wear from grinding or clenching (flat spots on the pointy parts of your teeth)
- Looking at the back of your throat for a congested airway
- Scalloped tongue (see the “pie crust” looking ridges on the sides of the tongue?)
After reading through all those symptoms you are probably wondering if you have a sleep-disordered breathing disorder! Here is a quick screening tool you can use at home. For each question that you answer yes, give yourself 1 point.
- Do you snore?
- Are you frequently tired, or feel sleepy?
- Has anyone seen you stop breathing in your sleep?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Are you overweight?
- Are you over the age of 50?
- Is your neck circumference larger than 15.75 inches?
- Are you male or a post-menopausal female?
What’s your score?
If you scored 0-2 you have a low risk of having sleep-disordered breathing, 3-4 means you have moderate risk, and 5 or more indicates you are at very high risk. Please keep in mind this only estimates your risk. Even people with a low risk can have sleep apnea. This is not a substitute for speaking with your doctor.
What about Children?
Identifying sleep-disordered breathing in children is crucial for their wellbeing and development. We will address this in depth in Chapter 7.
If a child snores—AT ALL—they need to be evaluated for sleep-disordered breathing by a sleep professional. Children have some of the same symptoms as adults, but also have a few others as well. Watch for these in child:
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Snorting, coughing or choking sounds
- Mouth breathing
- Sleep Terrors
- Restless sleeping
- Circles under the eyes (these can often look slightly pink or purplish)
- Grinding their teeth at night
Untreated sleep-disordered breathing will often result in many areas of life being challenging for children. If a child is experiencing difficulty in the some of the following areas, it could be a symptom of untreated sleep-disordered breathing:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Learning problems
- Behavioral problems
- Poor weight gain or growth
- Poor school performance
It is essential that if you think you or a loved one is at risk that you seek medical help. Do not let your fear of the test or treatment prevent you from getting evaluated and diagnosed.
This is a matter of life and breath.