Definition Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a halt in breathing when asleep, usually without snoring or gasping. Everyone experiences central apneas frequently. However, if it occurs too often or for long periods, it can cause reduce the oxygen levels in the body and disrupt sleep.

Causes of CSA

Central sleep apnea happens when the brain that controls breathing restarts the inhalation and exhalation breathing process after a minor delay in time. All people residing at high altitude have central apnea normally, and the higher you go, the more apnea is common. This occurs because elevation stimulates quick breathing to raise oxygen, which blows off carbon dioxide. This signals the brain to halt breathing for a pause, then the cycle restarts.

Central apnea can manifest in premature babies since the breathing center in the brain is not grown. Neurological disorders can also add to CSA. These consist of brain injuries, brain masses, Chiari malformations, and specific medications that suppress the breathing. Narcotics and opiate medications, even low doses, are well known to induce central apnea.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Children

  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath

    Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) in Children

    Seen episodes of pauses in breathing or abnormal breathing patterns during sleep

  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Daytime sleepiness (if rest is interrupted)

What Tests are used to Diagnose CSA?

An overnight sleep study also referred to as a polysomnogram (PSG), is the best way to diagnose CSA and requires it to be ordered by a medical doctor. When conducting the sleep study, the child’s breathing is checked carefully to notice any signs of sleep-disordered breathing.

Sleep Apnea in Children Treatment

Your doctor will prescribe treatment depending on the specific cause of your child’s CSA. If prematurity is the origin, supplemental oxygen is normally the treatment until the child’s breathing matures. A repeat sleep study is often done as the child grows to reevaluate breathing and to make sure the child is outgrowing CSA.

Learning PAP therapy

Children need assistance to accommodate PAP therapy

For children who have neurological issues causing the CSA, the treatment is often to help to breathe at night with oxygen. Unrelenting positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bi-level positive air pressure (PAP) therapy can assist a child in regulating their breathing by delivering air pressure through a nasal mask while they are sleeping.

Some children have challenges learning to wear a mask all night long. Those children may need assistance to accommodate PAP therapy.

References and Resources