Researchers have found that 20% of normal children snore from time to time. Causes for snoring may range from the common cold to allergies and occasional snoring is relatively harmless. However, 7 to 10 percent of children snore very night! Causes for regular (habitual) snoring can be varied and ranges from a deviated septum to the more dangerous obstructive sleep apnea. If your child is a habitual snorer, you need to know more to assess if they need any immediate medical attention.
Snoring Red Flags
According to the sleep experts at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), close to 12.5 million children up to 14 years old snore occasionally—about once or twice a week. The causes of occasional snoring are nothing to worry about. It’s probably just due to the common cold, tiredness, or even the wrong sleeping position. Nevertheless, occasional snoring might still aggravate existing underlying issues and develop into something that requires medical attention.
The rate of habitual snoring among infants to children 14 years old is significantly lower. UCLA’s Sleep Center estimates the figure at anywhere between 4.2 to 6.2 million. According to the center, habitual snoring is snoring that occurs three to four times a week. This is still not something to worry about, but it’s a sign you should start monitoring snoring habits, especially if it has already been happening for months.
Out of all the children aged zero to 14 years old who snore, only 1 to 2 percent have serious cases that require medical attention. This is equivalent to 550,000 to 1.1 million children in the U.S. alone.
Causes and Remedies of Snoring in Children
What causes snoring in adults also causes snoring in children. The only differences are the risks and rate of occurrences. Possible remedies depend on the cause of snoring:
1. Enlarged tonsil and adenoid
The most common cause of snoring in children is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. This can be inborn or due to infection, like in the case of tonsillitis. When these glands grow bigger than normal, they risk blocking the airway in the throat, especially when the child sleeps and the glands collapse inward.
When breathing is still manageable and the snoring doesn’t require urgent medical intervention, a doctor might prescribe medicine to reduce swelling and treat the infection. However, for most cases, especially for children with inborn conditions and those with diagnosed sleep apnea, doctors normally recommend the removal of the tonsils and adenoids through a surgery called adenotonsillectomy. A second surgery might be needed if other conditions that cause snoring are present (which isn’t uncommon). Holistic practitioners will work with the body’s immune system and address the cause of the infection without surgical intervention.
2. Anatomical abnormality
Snoring can also be due to anatomical factors that might cause the snoring to worsen as the child grows older. These factors include a small jaw, narrow throat, small airway, large/long tongue, deformed nostrils (due to accident or surgery), deviated septum (natural deformity of one or both nostrils), and bad teeth placement (although this rarely leads to a snoring problem).
Anatomical factors are commonly solved through surgery, which might be suggested right away if the child has other potentially fatal conditions related to breathing, such as heart problems and severe asthma.
3. Muscle and nerve problems
Irregularities in breathing might occur when the muscles and nerves that control the voluntary movements of the jaw and airway aren’t well coordinated. In normal children, the airway automatically opens and closes as you inhale and exhale. Unfortunately, for some children, due to nerve damage or poor muscle tone, this function becomes irregular during sleep and thus results in snoring and a lower oxygen level in the body.
As a muscle, the tongue can also be too relaxed when a child is asleep. When this happens, the tongue recoils or is pulled in, blocking the airway temporarily or completely (but not permanently).
The usual remedy given to children with weak tongue and throat muscles is occupational and respiratory therapy. A holistic practitioner might recommend Standard Process Cataplex B, Ligaplex I, or manganese to strengthen the nerves and muscles.
4. Obstructive sleep apnea (or sleep apnea)
This is a broader sleep disorder that might have resulted from one or several factors, including the ones already listed previously. This is diagnosed by observing a child’s sleep patterns or with the help of medical instruments.
A child is said to have sleep apnea if the airway collapses and totally blocks airflow into the lungs by not shorter than 10 seconds. Moreover, this should happen 30 to 300 times in the entire duration of the sleep.
Several treatment methods are given to patients depending on the age, anatomical structure, severity of the condition, and overall health status. The most common and safest of all is Positive Airway Pressure (PAP or CPAP). Here, the child is asked to wear a special mask to apply pressure in the airway, forcing it to open to allow normal airflow.
Another noninvasive treatment advised to obese children with no other medical issues is complete lifestyle change. The goal here is to reduce weight and, in effect, allow the airway to expand and contract normally.
Surgical remedies are also used as required. Thermal ablation is a procedure where the tissues in the soft palate, tongue, and nasal turbinates are reduced to increase the size of the airway and prevent blockage. Another surgery is uvulapalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) where the excess soft palate tissues are completely removed. There are also holistic options to explore for sleep apnea, which I discuss next.
Snoring and Its Effects on Health
Snoring might affect a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. The more serious effects in one’s health are heart problems (heart attacks due to sleep apnea aren’t uncommon) and delayed growth. The risk of experiencing these effects is even higher if your child is of African American descent, was born prematurely, is obese or overweight, or if your family has a history of obstructive sleep apnea.
When not treated as a child, snoring might increase the likelihood of hypertension and high cholesterol levels as an adult.
During the day, a child with snoring problems might experience headaches and grogginess, which will affect performance at school and energy for the entire day. Basically, the effects snoring and frequently waking up because of it are no different from the effects of having insufficient sleep.
According to Dr. David Gozal, currently Herbert T. Abelson Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, children with a sleep disorder or serious snoring problems are more likely to experience behavioral problems and difficulty learning (e.g., mood swings, crankiness).
Other noticeable effects of snoring in a child are restlessness when sleeping, bedwetting, night sweating, fatigue, unexplainable weight loss, and aloofness.
Holistic Healing Options for Snoring in Children:
- If obesity or allergies is the primary causes of snoring, then eliminating low-value foods (junk food, fast food, and foods with refined sugars) is critical. Replace these with whole foods and incorporate daily exercise to help weight management and consequential snoring management. Make sure the bedroom and house is clean and as dust-free as possible. For children, often better dietary results are achieved if the entire family models healthy eating and living habits, thus encouraging the child to eat and live healthier.
- If the child suffers from gastroesophageal reflux, obstructive sleep apnea can often aggravate this problem. In such cases, increasing the gap between dinnertime and bedtime will help reduce the chances of reflux. In case the child gets hungry before bedtime, a light snack should do the trick.
- A peppermint gargle before bedtime works as an excellent soothing and anti-inflammatory agent, thus helping alleviate your child’s snoring.
- Numerous other dietary adjustments like adding garlic or turmeric to your food, drinking chamomile tea, and using essential oils can also help alleviate your child’s snoring considerably.
- Misalignment in the neck and spine can be the root cause of a child’s snoring problem. Misalignment can block the Eustachian tubes (the tubes that allow fluids to be drained out of the head), causing congestion. In such cases, regular chiropractic adjustments can prove immensely beneficial.
- If your child’s head and neck are not in the proper position while sleeping, this can result in blocked airways and, consequently, snoring. The usual cause for such misalingement is poor quality pillows. A pillow that is too soft positions the head lower than the shoulders, causing blockage. A pillow that is too hard forces the neck upward at an unnatural angle, causing discomfort. A chiropractor can help your child by providing a specifically designed cervical pillow. This pillow is designed to support the neck and shoulders perfectly, helping keep the airways open as well as keep the child comfortable during the night. Cervical pillows are meant to be used whenever your child sleeps to provide optimum support to the neck and shoulders and eliminate snoring.
- For children with sleep apnea, a chiropractor can do a soft tissue massage and a spinal adjustment to help relax their muscles and promote proper breathing.
- Chiropractors can also use a special technique known as Zhou’s Hypoxicology Therapy. This technique focuses on strengthening the diaphragm through breathing exercises and manual exercises.
Acupuncture and acupressure are two different techniques and both have proven to be highly effective in alleviating snoring and its related symptoms. Because children are usually frightened of needles, I’d recommend trying acupressure to help your child’s snoring. Acupressure works by putting pressure on points using your thumb, whereas acupuncture works using needles.
- Just over the nape of the neck, at the base of the skull, you’ll find a headache relief pressure point called B10, also known as Urinary Bladder 10. This point is highly effective in clearing nasal congestion, which can help with kids snoring due to nasal blockage.
- Another helpful-to-know pressure point is located on the inner (HT 9) and outerside (SI 2) of your pinky. When activated, this point can alleviate and even stop snoring in many people. These points are believed to help improve the energy flow within the body, help clear the blocked passages, and improve snoring.
Snoring in children shouldn’t be ignored, specifically so you can prevent its negative effects. Observe your children closely and note how they snore. When you visit your child’s pediatrician, you should be able to describe the snoring problem accurately so the doctor can order the appropriate tests and recommend the right remedies.
Image from iStock/quintanilla.