Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Kids Breathe Easier in Summer

If any of your children suffer from seasonal patterns of sleep-disordered breathing that may even interfere with their physical development and hurt their academic performance, you’ll want to read this.

Sleep-disordered breathing – newly identified cause

Does your child have trouble getting a good night's sleep as a result of breathing problems while sleeping?  You may have noticed that the problem is at its worst in Winter and Spring. Until recently, medical experts believed the causes of sleep disorders in children were primarily asthma, allergies, or viral respiratory infections such as the flu.  But a new study shows that winter viruses are often the source of seasonal spikes in children’s sleep-disordered breathing

The 2013 study, conducted at the Pediatric Sleep Center at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center showed that:
  • Asthma and allergies do not contribute to pediatric sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Viruses alone may be responsible for the seasonal disordered breathing variation in children.
The research has far-reaching implications, potentially altering the way pediatricians treat childhood sleep-breathing disorders, adding heightened relevance to the time of year in diagnosing and treating children. Sleep-disordered breathing in children had already been identified as most common and severe during colder months.  But the study alters the previous assumption that these childhood breathing issues were nonetheless related to asthma or allergies.

A common example of a sleep-breathing disorder is obstructive sleep apnea – blockage of the upper airway by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, causing snoring or even stopped breathing. The result is elevated carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, decreased oxygen and, consequently, low-quality and fragmented sleep.

If not treated, childhood sleep-disordered breathing can result in heart disease, stunted growth, and neurocognitive problems that often lead to lower school performance, hindered language development. And, as this 2012 study showed, sleep-breathing issues can also lead to troubling behavioral issues, such as hyperactivity and aggressiveness, as well as emotional symptoms and difficulty with peer relationships.

In their study, the researchers looked closely at the cases of more than 2,000 children and adolescents between 2008 and 2010. The results confirmed results of an earlier study of children 5 to 9: that sleep-disordered breathing is worse in the the coldest months of November to March. Their statistics showed the children under five years of age showed the most stark seasonal variability in their breathing issues. The scientists also learned that neither wheezing nor asthma contributed to the seasonal trend.

The sleep clinic tests were primarily captured in warmer weather.  The researchers believe that, had all the research been conducted in the winter, seven percent more children would have been diagnosed with sleep-disordered breathing.

Researchers concluded that viral respiratory infections – the common element in younger children during colder months – are likely the main cause of the seasonal variability in children’s sleep-disordered breathing.

How might this affect your doctor’s treatment of your child’s sleep-breathing problem?  If it’s the colder time of the year when he or she sees your child, and if the symptoms are not severe, your doctor may advise that no treatment is the right response – that your child’s condition is likely to improve as the weather improves.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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