Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sleep Apnea

According to sleep experts and therapists, childhood sleep apnea is linked to brain damage and lower IQ. Recently, Johns Hopkins researchers embraced what is believed to be the first study showing neural changes in the brains of children with severe and untreated sleep apnea. They concluded that children with the disorder tend to suffer damage in two brain structures tied to learning ability. That makes it vital to report or seek professional help once a parent notices pediatric sleep apnea symptoms.

Pediatric sleep apnea symptoms

The Hopkins investigators reported that they compared 19 children with severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to 12 children without the sleep disorder. Using a special MRI, researchers identified alterations to the hippocampus and the right frontal cortex. Next, researchers linked the changes in the two brain structures to shortfalls in neuropsychological performance using IQ tests and other standardized performance tests that measure verbal performance, memory, and executive function. The whole procedure was in line with pediatric obstructive sleep apnea guidelines.

The hippocampus, a structure in the temporal lobe, plays a vital role in learning and memory storage. On the other hand, the right frontal cortex controls higher-level thinking like accessing old memories and using them in new situations.

Although researchers in pediatric sleep apnea treatment have known for years that fragmented sleep, interrupted breathing, and oxygen deprivation harm children’s learning ability and school performance, this is the first time they have associated the changes in the brain’s chemistry to the syndrome in children.

Notably, children with OSA had lower average IQ test scores (85) compared to children without OSA (101). Children with OSA performed worse on identical tests measuring executive functions, including verbal working memory (8 versus 15) and word fluency (9.7 versus 12). These are some of the severe consequences of untreated OSA in children.

Natural treatment for sleep apnea in children

In both children and adults, untreated sleep apnea has been linked to cardiovascular problems, learning, and memory deficits. That is why sleep apnea in children natural treatment and drug therapies are essential in salvaging the situation.

It is worth noting that the cognitive effects of untreated apnea might be far more damaging in children than in adults. Researchers point out that because these effects occur during critical developmental periods. The frontal cortex develops throughout the teen years and continues into the 30s. For that reason, researchers fear that childhood injury to this area might lead to long-term cognitive deficits.

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