Children's Hospital Colorado

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

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What is obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is defined as pauses in breathing that frequently occur with snoring or gasping. Although it is normal for everyone to experience occasional pauses in breathing, OSA can be a problem when breathing stops frequently or for prolonged periods of time. OSA can cause a child's oxygen levels to drop because of disrupted breathing.

Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a term that is used to describe all types of breathing problems that cause decreased airflow. This decreased airflow disrupts sleep quality or sleep time by causing lots of "arousals" or awakenings from sleep.

What causes obstructive sleep apnea?

The most common associations of obstructive sleep apnea in children are large tonsils and adenoids. Large tonsils and adenoids can become a problem when a child's throat relaxes during sleep because they can block air flow. Some kids with large tonsils and adenoids don't have OSA, so the tonsils don't "cause" OSA, but they contribute to it.

We think that children with OSA have problems with muscle tone that keep the throat open during sleep, even though they seem to have normal tone during the day. Other causes of OSA include obesity, craniofacial abnormalities and decreased muscle tone that can occur in children with complex medical conditions.

Who gets obstructive sleep apnea?

OSA occurs in 1% to 5% of all children.

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    Learn more about the Sleep Program
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Get to know our pediatric experts.

Steve Abman, MD

Steve Abman, MD

Pulmonology - Pediatric, Pediatrics

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Jean Milholland, PA-C

Jean Milholland, PA-C

Physician Assistant

Alicia Grenolds, CPNP-PC

Alicia Grenolds, CPNP-PC

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Gwendolyn Kerby, MD

Gwendolyn Kerby, MD

Pulmonology - Pediatric