Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your child's breathing is partially or completely blocked repeatedly during sleep. The condition is due to narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep.

There are differences between pediatric obstructive sleep apnea and adult sleep apnea. While adults usually have daytime sleepiness, children are more likely to have behavioral problems. The underlying cause in adults is often obesity, while in children the most common underlying condition is enlargement of the adenoids and tonsils.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent complications that can affect children's growth, cognitive development and behavior.


During sleep, signs and symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea might include:

  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Restless sleep
  • Snorting, coughing or choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Bed-wetting
  • Sleep terrors

Infants and young children with obstructive sleep apnea don't always snore. They might just have disturbed sleep.

During the day, children with sleep apnea might:

  • Perform poorly in school
  • Have difficulty paying attention
  • Have learning problems
  • Have behavioral problems
  • Have poor weight gain
  • Be hyperactive

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your child's doctor if your child consistently wakes up in the morning feeling tired and has behavioral problems.


Obesity is a common factor underlying obstructive sleep apnea in adults. But in children the most common condition leading to obstructive sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. However, obesity also plays a role in children. Other underlying factors can be craniofacial anomalies and neuromuscular disorders.

Risk factors

Besides obesity, other risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include having:

  • Down syndrome
  • Abnormalities in the skull or face
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • History of low birth weight
  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea


Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea can have serious complications, including:

  • Failure to grow
  • Heart problems
  • Death

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea care at Mayo Clinic

Oct. 03, 2020
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  2. Huang Y, et al. Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea: Where do we stand? Advances in Oto-rhino-laryngology. 2017;80:136.
  3. Paruthi S. Evaluation of suspected obstructive sleep apnea in children. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 14, 2018.
  4. Paruthi S. Management of obstructive sleep apnea in children. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 14, 2018.
  5. Riggin Ea. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. July 31, 2020.
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